Job Search Depression Is Real (And Scary) — Here Are 10 Ways to Climb Your Way Out of It

woman with job search depression looking at laptop

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

“The data supports the conventional wisdom,” said Dan Witters, a principal and research director at the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index, in The New York Times.

That is to say, people who continue to search for jobs after losing a position with no luck in sight hit a rut — and often more than a rut. It can be exhausting and upsetting, with physical and psychological consequences. Job search depression can strike even the most qualified, high-achieving candidates. So, why does it happen — and what can we do about it?

What is job search depression?

That hopeless feeling after searching and searching for a job to no avail? That’s job search depression. While many job seekers experience a slight uptick when they embark on their job search initially, after 2-3 months, their mental health suffers when they still haven’t had any luck finding or securing a new role.

Causes of job search depression

There are many different causes of job search depression. They include:

1. Lack of interviews.

After sending out countless resumes, it’s only natural to feel discouraged when no one’s biting. It can be hard not to take it personally and wonder if you’re doing something wrong — or worse, just a non-viable candidate in the job market.

2. Rejections.

Similarly, it’s hard not to take rejections to heart when you’ve tried to put your all into your applications and interviews. Remember that you’re facing stiff competition, and it’s not you — it’s the reality of the market. 

3. Worry about your future. 

It can be difficult not to worry about what’s going to happen to you financially and otherwise when you’ve been out of work and actively looking for some period of time. You may feel helpless and as though you have no hand in how your work future will play out.

4. Fatigue.

You’re probably tired and just plain sick of it all. Exhaustion contributes to your mood, and sometimes all you want to do is just sleep and not deal with your problems anymore.

9 signs or symptoms

Concerned that you might have job search depression? Here are some of the signs:

1. You have physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches and back pain.

2. You feel more irritable and on-edge than usual.

3. You question your self-worth and are generally down on yourself.

4. You feel hopeless and sad about ever finding a job.

5. You’re tired all the time.

6. Your energy is low (especially when it comes to filling out another job application).

7. You’re extremely anxious.

8. Your mood and outlook are affecting other aspects of your life.

9. Other people have noticed that you don’t seem well.

How to prevent or cope with it.

Ideally, you’ll nip job search depression in the bud before it becomes a problem. However, it can be difficult not to let the seemingly endless cycle get to you. Try these steps when you’re just getting your feet wet — or when you’re knee-deep.

1. Anticipate rejection.

I know — easier said than done. Still, you should tell yourself that you will receive rejections, and it will be okay. Knowing this upfront will make those rejections easier to take.

2. Have a plan.

Before you blindly start sending out tons and tons of resumes, put together a plan. Commit to polishing your resume by a certain time and getting a set of eyes on it by such-and-such date. Commit to applying to a specific number of jobs every day — and really applying, as in writing a new cover letter and tailoring your resume according to the job description.

3. Keep track of your efforts.

Have a spreadsheet of applications sent, noting whether or not you’ve heard back and when you should follow up. This will not only allow you to keep track of outstanding applications, but it will also help you feel a sense of accomplishment to see everything you’re doing toward your goals.

4. Build your skills.

You should never stop learning and improving — especially now. Look for courses to take to build your skills. If the classes are in-person, that’s even better — it will get you out of the house and interacting with other people.

5. Make time for self-care.

It may feel like you should be focusing solely on your job search now, but that will drive you crazy — and lead to job search depression. Make time for yourself. Schedule walks, journal, take a bath, meditate, go for a run — whatever it is that helps you unwind and relax.

6. Make plans with other people.

Along the same lines, you should continue to socialize with other people. This will help you feel like you — not a perpetual job hunter.

7. Network

Networking is always important but especially now. Go to industry events, crack open your contacts and start emailing old business acquaintances and tell anyone and everyone that you’re looking for a new job. You never know who might come through.

8. Treat it like a job.

Right now, job searching is your job. Putting more effort into it will help you feel like you’re actually doing something, not just wallowing. Otherwise, you’ll start to feel defeated and helpless.

9. Ask for help.

It’s okay to ask for help at any point. Even if you just want to vent, chances are, your support system will want to be there for you.

10. Cut yourself some slack.

This would be frustrating for anyone. Remind yourself of that.

How to help someone with it.

Know someone with job search depression? Even if you’re not going through it yourself, it can be difficult to watch a loved one dealing with the pain of uncertainty and rejection. Here are some ways to help your friend, family member or someone else through it:

• Let them know that you’re there to listen.

Just knowing that they’re not alone in this can help a job searcher tremendously.

• Avoid using empty platitudes.

“Something will come through,” “You just need to have the right attitude” and “Stop being so negative” are not things someone with job search depression wants to hear. 

• Offer words of encouragement.

Affirm how frustrating this is while also expressing encouragement that they’re taking the right steps toward changing their situation.

• Help in the best way you can.

Are you a wordsmith? Offer to edit your friend’s resume or cover letter. Know someone in the same industry? See if you can connect them. These small gestures could make the difference.

• Take their mind off of things.

Do something that doesn’t have to do with job searching, such as taking your friend out to eat or relaxing at the spa for an afternoon.

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