Stress management - 11 tips to help you sail through your job search

By Richard Bayer, Ph.D. Career, job search, stress management

Money woes. A sense of rejection. Questions and pressure from family and friends. An uncertain future. If you've recently lost your job, you know this dismal laundry list all too well. And while being forced into unemployment is never easy, the fact that it's happened in the middle of a terrible recession rife with lay-offs really amps up the stress. That's why it's crucial to take care of your mental health—and if you do the right stress-busting exercises, you'll also improve your odds of finding a job.

There are few experiences in modern life more stressful than losing a job, even if the job wasn't a very good one. It's all too easy to convince yourself that you'll never find another one. And besides being a terribly depressing mindset, it can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I've seen it all before: People who stay upbeat, approach their search with a sense of balance, and work diligently and consistently every day will find a job when they are using the right job-search techniques. Attitude counts for a lot more than you might think.

Here are a few suggestions from The Five O'Clock Club that will help you push through your job hunt stress and hear "You're hired!" in no time.

Realize it's okay to be "between jobs." When you have a job it's easy to tell the world what you do: "I'm a divisional controller at Roland Chemicals," "I'm an administrator at St. Matthew's Hospital," or "I'm a marketing manager at Southworth Paper." But when you don't have a job, "So what do you do?" becomes a dreaded question. We resort to a euphemism, "I'm between jobs." Ironically, many folks don't really believe they're between jobs—even though it is absolutely the truth.

You must learn to ignore the inner voice that in your darkest moments says, "I'll never get a good job again." When you tell people, "I'm between jobs," you assume they believe you. Believe it yourself. Even if you've just been turned down for three jobs, remind yourself that you got three interviews and you can get three more.

Stay in touch with colleagues and friends from your former workplace. Of course people don't stop being friends with people they used to work with. But when you're unemployed, that daily camaraderie is gone. "Let's get together for drinks one of these days" is now the reality instead of seeing Mark or Helen at the next desk every day—and sharing news of daily life as well as of the work to be done. One of the most painful aspects of not getting up and going to work every day is missing people who were fun to be around.

That's why it's so important that you stay in touch with your work friends. Number one, if you lost your job as the result of a layoff, they are probably stressed and worried about keeping their own job; or if they got laid off too, they're as worried about finding a new one as you are. In either case they may need a friend like you to talk to. Also, having worked with you, they'll be able to provide you with some positive reinforcement on your down days and remind you of your past achievements.

Treat your job search like a job. After many years of catching the 7:35 train or driving the morning commute and putting in eight- or ten-hour days, the lack of that routine can be disorienting. As much as we wish we could sleep late more often, as much as we welcome three- or four-day holiday weekends, our lives are structured around work schedules, whether it's nine-to-five or some other shift. When people are robbed of such routines, they can feel that they've been cut loose.

The best way to overcome the shell shock of losing your daily routine is to create a new one. If you've been laid off, treat your job search as your new job. After all, between the résumé updating, scanning want ads, and networking, there's plenty to be done. Providing yourself with the day-to-day structure you're so familiar with will help you keep your sanity and get going in your job search more quickly.

Exercise regularly and keep a healthy lifestyle. Regular physical exercise and a healthy diet help to reduce tension and stress. If your former routine involved going to the gym and you can still afford it, keep going. Or if you've given up your gym membership, a half-hour walk every day will do the trick on a budget. Keep an eye on what you're eating as well. If you're depressed, it's probably easier to order takeout or go for fast food instead of cooking, but this is not the time to neglect good nutrition.

Healthy foods give you energy and keep you well. And you'll need both to be successful in the job market. And of course, if you consistently eat the wrong things, you'll gain weight—which is not only depressing but also prevents you from looking your best in your interview suit.

Despite the worries, take time to enjoy the change of pace. Being freed from the nine-to-five grind means you finally have time to slow down and take stock of what you really want to achieve in your life. Many people have been charging ahead so intensely, so relentlessly, for so many years and putting up with demands and environments that drag them down that they haven't noticed they've strayed off course. Unemployment can be a time to think about your life and plot course corrections. Some of the questions you'll want to consider as you plan your job search are as follows:

  • What matters to me the most?
  • What do I want to do differently?
  • What hasn't worked for me in the past?
  • What was my own role (if any) in my job loss? What can I do better the next time?
  • How am I taking care of myself?

Serious deliberation of these questions can be liberating and energizing. And they can help you focus your job search so that you don't waste any time looking in industries or at companies where you know you won't be happy or appreciated. Who knows? You may even come to see losing your job as a gift—one that spurs you on to change your life for the better.

Stay away from negative news and naysayers. Even in good economic times, you don't have to go far to find negative news about the world situation. During a recession, it's in your face 24/7. If you're in the job market and are having trouble keeping up your own morale, stay away from the news, especially headlines about massive layoffs and the high unemployment rate.

In the same vein, stay away from the naysayers, whether they be friends, family, or otherwise, who only reinforce the negative news available to you in your paper and on TV. Their negativity will only get you down. You know you're facing an uphill battle. You don't need the news or those around you constantly reminding you of it. Your ability to stay positive will be a huge factor in maintaining your mental well-being during your job hunt.

If you need to vent, vent! If you're angry, frustrated, feeling betrayed—whatever—find people to talk to about what has happened. But remember, there's only so much your family wants to hear, so it's best you find a support group where you can discuss your problems with people who are feeling the same pains you are.

"Getting it all out" does have healing power, and there is nothing especially heroic or brave about trying to go it alone. It will take only a little snooping on the Internet or in your local newspapers to find support groups at churches and synagogues, libraries and community centers. You'll find people who will listen, and whose stories will help you feel less isolated.

Look at your unemployment as a business problem. When you had bad days at work, you analyzed whatever problem was plaguing you, marshaled resources and people, and came up with solutions. In the wake of job loss, your emotions—your hurt or anger—may be blocking this kind of response. But a great way to overcome that is to think of getting hired again as a business problem—you've rarely been stumped before, why now? Set your objective: To find a satisfying job that pays the bills. And develop your business strategy for achieving it. Track down the people who are in a position to hire you, position yourself appropriately, offer proposals to meet their needs, and turn interviews into offers. Remember, attitude alone won't get you there, but if you make sure you are using the right job-search techniques, after a while your unemployment business problem will be solved.

Celebrate short-term successes. When you get up in the morning, don't grumble to yourself, "I'm looking for a job again today." Rather, set up some achievable goals for the day so that you end it with a sense of accomplishment. Write five more targeted letters. Identify ten more companies to contact. Make ten follow-up phone calls. Set up one or two networking meetings. Just being able to cross these goals off your list at the end of the day is a good feeling. And, of course, they often lead to something even better.

Some of the activities will pay off—you land a meeting, you get suggestions on good companies and people to contact. These are the short-term successes that feed good morale. And after you've had a few of them, you'll quickly find that you wake up one morning saying, "I start my new job today!"

Keep on top of your game. So you don't go to the office from nine to five like you used to. That's no excuse to let your skills and knowledge slip. There's no better time than a job search to make sure you stay current and sharp. Use some of your time to catch up on reading journals and attending meetings of your professional associations. This might also be a good time to volunteer for an association committee in your industry or to help a friend in his/her business.

You might consider using the time to take a continuing ed. course, one that you could never find the time for when you were employed. That can be a great selling point when you're interviewing. Temping or consulting may also help you stay current, and of course, the cash it brings in can help you stay calm and focused. It's also a great networking opportunity, and if you are successful wherever you end up, you may be offered a permanent paying position.

Have fun. You might be laughing at that suggestion. But in the same way that you get burnt out on your job after working non-stop for a month or two, you can get burnt out on your job search—so make yourself walk away from it from time to time.
You need to stay fresh, so take a break from your job hunt to have three hours of fun a week. Laughter is good therapy. When you're unemployed you have more flexibility in booking your fun time. So don't hesitate to go to your favorite museum on a Wednesday morning or watch an afternoon ball game.

If you stay positive and make "I will persevere!" your motto, you will land a great job, sooner or later. You are employable and this time of transition is exactly that—a transition. Besides, living in a place of hope just feels better than living in a place of despair. Always choose hope. You'll get to where you want to go just as fast, and the journey will be far more rewarding.

About the Book:

The Good Person Guidebook: Transforming Your Personal Life (Five O'Clock Books, 2008, ISBN: 978-0-944054-16-1, $14.95) is available at Amazon.

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