How to Deal With Job Search Depression According To Experts
by Haley Lyles
Even during times of low unemployment and high competition amongst employers, finding a job has never been a walk in the park. Add in the economic impacts of COVID-19, and landing a job has become staggeringly more difficult.
The toll that this frustration takes isn't insignificant — psychologists associate unemployment with psychological ailments like anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Unfortunately, with over 16.3 million Americans laid off due to COVID-19, these feelings of exhaustion and burnout from endless job hunting are not uncommon.
So how do you deal with not finding a job? And how can you keep up the job search without it taking a massive toll on your mental health? We talked to expert psychologists to find out how to deal with job search depression in the age of COVID-19.
Why is Job Searching So Stressful?
Job searching is, by nature, stressful. You're putting in work with no guaranteed outcome, and that uncertainty can take a toll over time. It comes as no surprise then that the longer people are unemployed, the more likely they are to report signs of depression.
But what makes job hunting during the pandemic different than it was before? Therapist Prescilla John, LCSW, believes that it's because of repeated exposures to external stressors that have plagued us the entire year, such as the COVID-19 health crisis, political tension and race relations. That's not even accounting for personal life stressors that people have faced during 2020.
According to the Mayo Clinic, unemployment on its own can lead to stress, anxiety and depression. Coupled with the impacts of COVID-19, the frustration of job searching can lead to:
- Losing your sense of purpose
- Feelings of isolation and loneliness
- Feeling like you're not needed
- Anxiety about your health and safety
- Jealousy towards others who are still working
- Worry about providing for yourself or your family
The negative impacts of job search depression can bleed over into other areas of your life as well, says psychotherapist Grace Dowd, LCSW. Additionally, "The job-search can also take a major hit on one's self-esteem, which can affect our overall view of the world and ourselves. Losing a job can mean losing our sense of identity, agency, and autonomy."
For many people, their jobs become tied to their feelings of self-worth. Dowd explains that when people are concerned about their future livelihood, it can become harder to focus and can lead to disrupted sleep and eating patterns, obsessive thoughts or worry about the future. It comes as no surprise then that the depression rate is three times higher among unemployed young adults than their employed peers.
According to John, all of these stressors, in addition to the stress of looking for a job, can contribute to something called allostatic load. Allostatic load is the physiological consequence of wear and tear on the body accumulating over time due to exposure to chronic stress. While some aspects of allostatic load are genetic, environmental factors such as diet, exercise and smoking or drinking can contribute, all of which are common coping mechanisms during times of stress.
How Do You Deal With Not Finding a Job?
It's completely normal to be frustrated and anxious during the job hunting process. From customizing your resume to preparing for an interview, job searching feels like a full-time job in itself. Here's what experts have to say about caring for your mental wellbeing while on the hunt.
Cut Yourself Some Slack
Uncertainty is inherently stressful, and it's important to remember that you're not alone with those feelings: 55 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the coronavirus outbreak has started.
Before the pandemic, around five to seven percent of people met the criteria for depression. Now, according to a Columbia University study published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, that number has skyrocketed, with up to 50 percent of the population experiencing depressive symptoms. However, it's important to note that depressive symptoms do not always equate to diagnosed depression. Regardless of the severity of the depressive episodes, it's clear that the changes caused by the pandemic are taking a heavy toll on people nationwide.
In times like these, making it through the day is an accomplishment in itself. Roxane Cohen Silver, Ph.D. and Professor at the University of California Irvine, says that it's important to acknowledge that this uncertainty is stressful, and the feelings you are experiencing are a normal reaction to our new normal.
Stop the Negative Feedback Loop
Acceptance is an integral part of the grieving process, and for many people, the feeling of losing your job can be one that causes grief. Dr. Sabrina Romanoff, a Harvard-trained psychologist, says this can cause a negative feedback loop, where decreased productivity leads to poorer job search performance and undesirable outcomes in the future.
So how can you stop this negative feedback loop from occurring? John says that because self-doubt and lack of confidence can directly influence your ability to land and attract new opportunities, it's important to have a growth mindset (i.e. the belief that intelligence can be developed).
This is because the messages we tell ourselves ultimately influence our decisions, so starting with a mindset shift is a crucial first step. Here's how you can develop a growth mindset:
- Embrace imperfections: Embracing your flaws can lead to feelings of success when you achieve something, rather than feelings of failure if you do not achieve something perfectly.
- Face challenges head-on: Take the time to reframe challenges as opportunities.
- Pay attention to your thoughts: This will allow you to get more in tune with what you're genuinely feeling.
- Take time to learn about yourself: Take time for candid self-reflection to determine your goals and find your sense of purpose.
- Reward actions, not words: Celebrate once you've achieved a goal or completed a task, not once you've decided to take it on.
- Learn from your mistakes: Focus on what you learned from your mistakes rather than beating yourself up about making a mistake.
Practice Mindfulness to Focus On What You Can Control
With so much out of your control, you can take back your power by focusing on what you can control. Think about how you can find joy in the small things, like a daily walk around your neighborhood or spending more time with people in your home. If you want to focus on getting back into the right headspace for a job search, think about building your personal brand to make yourself a more competitive candidate.
John says that "it's important for job seekers to remember that the job search process does not define who they are. Reasons for not getting hired may be beyond their control, and there will always be other opportunities to come, sometimes much better opportunities."
Instead of fixating on things outside of your control, like whether or not a company contacted you back for an interview, take time to focus on what you can control. A great way to do this is by practicing mindfulness, which is being fully aware in the present moment and accepting it without judgment.
But practicing mindfulness doesn't mean you can't or don't do anything to change your situation, explains licensed therapist Amanda Stemen, MS, LCSW; however, you have to be present with it to move forward effectively.
Taking a few minutes to sit with your thoughts each day can, over time, cause you to experience less discomfort, she says. You may also be able to see solutions and opportunities you might not have otherwise when you're caught up in the stress.
Remember That a Job Does Not Define You
It's not uncommon for people to end up in a position where their job becomes their whole life — psychologists refer to this as "enmeshment," or a situation where boundaries have become blurred, and individual identities become less important. So what happens when a job that has become so tied to your sense of self-worth is suddenly absent?
Adjusting to unemployment can be extremely difficult, and the prospect of taking a step backward to move forward in a new career path isn't an easy pill to swallow. Additionally, job searching for long periods can be extremely draining on your self-worth. According to a study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, unemployment is not only associated with, but also causes, poorer mental health.
Janna Koretz, Psy.D, a psychologist specializing in mental health challenges associated with high-pressure careers — the type of jobs where your career becomes your whole identity, explains how to move away from a mindset where your job is your entire life to build a sustainable health mindset:
- Schedule free time: While it can feel weird at first, set aside time for yourself to do whatever you want.
- Start small: When trying to stick to new habits, she suggests starting small — a few minutes of mindfulness, going for a run or even picking up a hobby helps you make small changes that can, over time, lead to a cycle of improvement.
- Decide what's most important to you: Think about what you valued most at your previous job to determine what you want to look for moving forward.
- Look beyond your job title: Try reframing your relationship with your career by focusing on your transferable skills that can be applied to new job positions.
- Rebuild your network: Mitigate feelings of isolation by reaching out to your contacts to create a support network and put feelers out for new job opportunities.
Along with building a healthy mindset, taking time to build job skills needed to become more marketable can increase the likelihood of attracting new employment opportunities, says John. She explains that saying no to self-sabotaging thoughts and messages while engaging in action towards self-improvement will make all the difference.
Reach Out for Support
During times of depression or stress, the value of reaching out for support cannot be overstated — but taking the leap to reach out in the first place often feels like the largest hurdle to overcome.
Damian Birkel, founder of Professionals in Transition, a job search resource and support group, shared a grief coping strategy to help people that are experiencing burnout, anxiety or depression due to unemployment:
- Maintain other roles with loved ones
- Join a support group
- Get counseling
- Don't be afraid to see a psychiatrist
"It's extremely important that we recognize that anxiety is contagious, but so is compassion," says Silver. Whether you contact loved ones, colleagues or a psychology professional, reaching out for support can mitigate isolation tendencies during times of unemployment.
Create Structure in Your Daily Routine
Job searching is a marathon, not a sprint. It can be tempting to set exceedingly high goals for yourself, and after a few days of failing to achieve them, you end up losing motivation and falling into another rut of frustration and stress.
To mitigate this, try setting daily limits for how long you'll work on job searching, and don't let yourself work outside of that. Because job searching lacks the natural structure of a job with set hours or tasks, it's a good idea to try out different time management strategies to find a style that works for your needs. This can help prevent you from getting carried away with a "yo-yo mentality" of highs and lows that ends in burnout.
To minimize burnout while job searching, Dowd suggests pacing yourself with your application process. She says that people find it helpful to dedicate a concrete amount of time each day to job searching while using the other time to increase healthy habits.
People searching for a job can benefit from having an organized approach to job hunting and having a daily plan to navigate their efforts, says John. She specifies that this involves setting goals and intentions for the day regarding how much time will go into updating their resume and cover letters, putting in applications, networking and following up on submitted applications.
During times of unemployment, it's essential to take care of yourself proactively. Taking deliberate actions now, as opposed to reactionary care for physical or mental issues, can help you create a balanced, sustainable daily routine.
The importance of creating structure and maintaining a daily routine when job searching can't be understated. Finding purpose in other areas of your life can lead you closer to your final destination and help you build healthy habits along the way.
The uncertain nature of job searching can be extremely stressful, especially during times like these. If you're in the process of hunting for a job, it's important to make sure your resume is up-to-date — your dream job might just be even closer than you think.