Searching for your next job or career opportunity just may be one of the most stressful things you do in life. Everything within the job search process including navigating online applications, tracking where you have applied, all the way through to the interview (if you manage to get it) can be overwhelming to say the least.
Stress is part of our daily lives and most likely always will be, but when we are searching for our next paid position so we can put food on the table, stress can easily turn into more serious anxiety. The uncertainty of when we will see our next paycheck, and the fear of what happens next can be all consuming. Stress and anxiety are often used interchangeably, but make no mistake they are most certainly different.
Stress is that gentle pressure or sense of urgency that tells us something is a priority, needs our attention, needs to get done, or needs to get resolved. A certain amount of stress can be positive and even motivating. When the pressure from stress gets too high, it turns into anxiety, which can come with some serious symptoms and begin to impact our daily functioning.
Anxiety is our body’s natural response to stress, or back in cave man days - danger. Our brain perceives stress or danger, and the fight or flight response within us kicks in and triggers fear, increased heart rate, and sweaty palms. But it doesn’t stop there. Symptoms of anxiety are very subjective, and can run the gamut including (but not limited to), persistent and excessive worry, a chronic pessimistic mindset, difficulty concentrating or processing information, fatigue or trouble sleeping, gastrointestinal (GI) problems, and feeling restless, agitated and irritable more often than not.
Anxiety is more common than most people realize. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates from national prevalence data, that nearly 40 million people in the United States experience an anxiety disorder in any given year. In addition, globally it is estimated that 284 million people experience anxiety disorders, making them the most common mental health disorders in the world.
Understanding the signs, symptoms, and prevalence of anxiety and anxiety disorders is important so we can know when to seek mental health support for ourselves, and so we can also be able to recognize signs of struggle in others, and respond with compassion. While you may not experience anxiety to the severity of an official disorder diagnosis, it is important that even minor symptoms during periods of high stress (like a job search) are addressed.
The job search process has become much more sophisticated with its use of online applicant tracking systems, personality assessments, and virtual interviews; not to mention the amount of candidate competition. As of September 2020, the national unemployment rate was 7.9%, which equates to roughly 12.6 million people. That means there are a lot of similarly qualified people applying to the same jobs, and only one person can get hired in the end. Stress during the job search process can easily overwhelm us making anxiety skyrocket.
Needless to say, if we are in a constant state of stress, overwhelm, and experiencing anxiety on top of that, we aren’t going to be bring out “A” game to the job search or interview process. So how exactly do we get a grip until the stars align and we land that next position?
1) Stay Organized - Keeping track of where you apply, to what position, and any communication you have with hiring managers can feel like a full-time job on its own. The last thing you want is an e-mail to get lost in your inbox and to miss an interview request. To reduce stress and anxiety, I suggest running your job search like you would any project at work. Go all in and put your skills to use.
Create a dedicated folder (or folders) in your inbox to organize communication from companies where you have applied. Create a spreadsheet to store all relevant job search information including; company name, position applied for, date application was submitted, names of hiring managers, recruiter information, and login information for online ATS (applicant tracking) systems. Staying organized will have you less stressed and assured that you have all the important information for your search saved, and if need be, you know exactly where you can go to find it again.
2) Stay Positive - Our mind is complex and we can easily get into a negative rut when things aren’t happening like we wish they would. There is a lot of competition in the job market, and when another candidate is chosen, it can take a toll on our confidence and self-esteem. Remaining positive in the face of adversity is a skill we can all benefit from practicing.
Reframing negative thoughts to see an alternate perspective or opportunity within a situation, can help prevent your mindset from spiraling. It is easy to get caught up in comparison to others, or negative self-talk if we aren’t seeing enough, or immediate results from our job search. Reviewing your previous accomplishments can help you focus on your skills, talents and natural gifts that you have used to add value at previous employers and will bring to a new position. Reminding yourself that there is another incredible role out there for you that will come along when the time is right, can help you remain at ease and patient during a time when we feel enormous pressure.
3) Keep Your Routine – You’re not on vacation, you’re on hiatus. Your next position may come along quickly or when you least expect it, so don’t let all your positive habits go sour. Sticking to a daily morning routine, and continuing to practice good time management is essential.
Your job during hiatus is to find a job, so let that be your main priority. Schedule in job search activities just like you would any other business meeting or appointment. Set daily and weekly goals for yourself, and use your planner to block out time to complete specific tasks.
Creating structure and staying consistent with daily routines is a sure way to reduce stress and anxiety. When we take an organized approach to our day, we are more productive and that boosts our self confidence when we need it the most.
4) Use Your Resources – Our professional network is one of our most important assets. Connecting with previous colleagues or business partners to catch up and share with them your job search goals is truly beneficial. You never know who’s company is hiring and looking for someone just like you! Let this be a staple activity during your job search and one of your daily tasks.
Additionally, is there a previous colleague, manager, or mentor who can help you prepare for an interview? Once we land an interview we can be wrought with anxiety. Practicing and preparing with someone who we are comfortable with, and who knows us well in the workplace can put our nerves at ease, and help us feel more focused and confident.
5) Take Care of Yourself - When going into an interview or starting a new position, you want to feel renewed, organized, prepared, and confident. Although the job search process takes work, you don’t want to run yourself down or get burned out. Build in blocks of free time for healthy hobbies and activities that nourish your spirit. We all need a break from thinking about the hard stuff, and self-care is the release we need. Self-care looks different for everyone. It could be playing your favorite sport, meditating, reading, or getting creative with some art supplies. Anything that allows you to slow down, rest, and feel renewed is self-care.
Building on Keeping Your Routine (#3 above), maintaining good sleep habits, nutrition and exercise schedules throughout your hiatus are only going to serve you well. Monitoring or reducing intake of anxiety inducing foods such as caffeine, sugar, alcohol and gluten can also be beneficial.
Self-care is important regardless of whether we are on hiatus searching for our next opportunity, or gainfully employed. Self-care is essential for lowering stress and anxiety, boosting self-confidence, maintaining good health, and increasing your productivity and focus.
These five strategies are just some of the ways to reduce and manage, stress and anxiety when searching for your next job. At a time when there seems to be so much uncertainty, remember that you can create stability for yourself by using these methods as a guide.
If you are looking for ways to stress less and find a little bit of calm in an overwhelming world - download my free eBook 'The Gifts of Calm' here Looking for support in becoming your most energetic, confident and resilient self? Book a free discovery call here.