5 Ways to Manage the Anxiety of a High-Stakes Job Search

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The social distancing rules surrounding COVID-19 have shuttered businesses and as the markets waver with daily news of the pandemic, companies are cutting expenses — and the personnel. In the third week of March 2020 alone, over three million people in the United States filed for unemployment. According to California Governor Gavin Newsom,  the Golden State is seeing over 100,000 unemployment claims a day. It can feel intimidating  to look for a job during a market that's flooded with competition. And if you're recently unemployed, the financial stresses of your job search — and the possibility the search could drag on in our current economy — can cause emotions can run high and stress can become unbearable. However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from burn out and unhealthy levels of anxiety. 

I'm not a medical professional, and if you are in distress, you should absolutely seek help from one — or from the 24/7 suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 . But, like many people, I have been there before. Here are ways you can calm your anxiety during the job search (especially a particularly stressful one). 

1. Acknowledge and validate your emotions. Then, spend time each day expressing them. 

There's no doubt this is an especially stressful time to be a person. We're dealing with the stressful realties that we or someone we love may get sick, a social isolation timeline that feels no clearer today than it did last week, and a really rocky economic downturn that affects personal finances and the health of the nation all at once. Being unemployed only adds a stressor. Still, many of us aren't willing to engage with our feelings of stress or fear, reserving space instead for people who have it worse than us. Here's my opinion: acknowledging and validating your own emotions, even the negative ones, doesn't take away the experiences of others or lead to a negative spiral. Instead, it helps us learn exactly what we need to cope. Spend some time journaling or talking with someone you trust about how you're feeling — from the gratitude to the absolute worst fears. Then, spend some time every day checking in with them. Even jotting down your stressors and a plan for tackling them (or accepting them) on your Notes app can relieve a lot of stress. 

2. Use mental health resources.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: online advice and even the best meditation app can't take the spot of a mental health professional (or resources created by them!). If you have health insurance or the means to seek a therapist for this bump in the road, online services like Alma, GoodTherapy and the International Therapist Directory can help you find a professional in your area. There are free options, too. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has collected a series of free online resources for those experiencing COVID-related anxiety (or anxiety in general!), including online support groups, in their recent resource guide. We'll get to other mindfulness resources later!

3. Be picky.

One of the easiest ways to get stressed during the job search is to send out hundreds of applications that barely fit your skills or passion just because they're available, only to worry about their status or lack of response. It seems like a good idea to bandage your stress with more job applications, but if the payoff isn't there, it's just a waste of time and energy. The better way to go about this? Limit your applications to jobs that really interest you — that match your skillset and your ambitions. Pour your time into finding more of those and filling out less applications that make you feel unqualified, unmotivated or unappreciated. This will help you focus on the possibilities this chapter holds instead of staring at the red tape.

4. Set expectations.

One of the worst parts of the job search is that it can feel absolutely endless. It can feel like throwing rocks into the abyss, losing count of those rocks, then having one, every once in a while, come back and hit you in the face. You can counteract this absolutely demotivating feeling by setting clear benchmarks for yourself, then meeting or exceeding these expectations. This can be especially helpful if you're unemployed, because it gives you that self-esteem boost similar to nailing a work project or checking off a box on your to-do list. Tell yourself how many jobs you're going to apply to, how many follow ups you're going to send and how many Fairygodboss connections you're going to make. Then, do it and share your accomplishments with a confidante. Keep your applications and other benchmarks organized in a spreadsheet, and go over your progress at the end of each day. And if you don't make your benchmarks? Hey, no sweat. Find a process that works better for you and start fresh from there.

5. Spend plenty of time doing other things — especially activities that promote mindfulness.

The job search can feel all consuming. But just like at other points in your career, it's important to your well-being to take time and remind yourself you're more than a money-making cyborg or someone living through a tough chapter in history. Try to do things that keep you from scrolling through the news for hours or refreshing a job board looking for new openings. Do the hobbies you're good at. Spend time FaceTiming with the people who value you. Spend time connecting with the core of who you are. And keep up with your self-care routines — or pick up ones that don't create additional expenses. Try free online meditation (headspace and Shine are good places to start) or a stream of a yoga class. Take breaks and remind yourself you deserve them.