Networking and business cards. Cover letters and resumes. Applications and interviews. It all adds up to the same thing — job hunting.
If any of these concepts, say networking or interviewing, make your hair stand on end, you’re in good company. According to a 2013 study, 92 percent of Americans fear at least one part of the job interview process, whether that’s having the jitters, showing up late for the interview, or not knowing how to answer difficult questions. This doesn’t even cover the nail-biting anxiety of waiting for a return email or phone call after you’ve sent off yet another application or completed an interview.
Combine the normal job search stress with a mental health issue, and the task may seem impossible.
How Job Hunting Impacts Our Mental Health
Beyond the familiar anxiety of putting ourselves out there while networking, the anxiety of going into a job interview, or even the debilitating depression that can accompany being out of work, for those of us who deal with mental illness on a regular basis, the job hunt can create an even more basic challenge.
“I think a lot of the stress of applying for jobs and putting yourself out there is just getting organized,” says Los Angeles-based psychologist Sarah Schewitz. “That can be especially difficult for people with mental illness, because many mental illnesses will affect your ability to concentrate, pay attention to detail, and to just stay on task.”
With so many moving parts, including coordinating resumes and cover letters, finding relevant jobs, applying for positions, following up, attending networking events, and preparing for interviews, it’s a lot to undertake, which can be overwhelming to even start if you’re working with a mental health condition.
Set Achievable Goals
This makes it important to set small achievable goals you can work toward throughout the job hunting process. Schewitz recommends breaking the job hunt down into smaller goals that make the process more manageable, which sets you up for success.
“It’s important to break down the steps of what it takes to reach that goal into small achievable stuff that you can accomplish one little thing every day,” Schewitz advises. “You feel successful because you can check something off your list every day and you don’t feel so overwhelmed.”
So what could this look like? Set a timer and spend 30 minutes looking at job boards for relevant positions you’d like to apply for. Make it a goal to apply to three jobs every morning before 10 a.m. Maybe one night you spend making sure your resume is in tip-top shape. Another day’s job task is to prepare questions you might ask a potential employer, while you schedule a coffee date with a friend the next day to practice answering interview questions. Make lists, think small tasks, and each step will get you closer to your goal.
If you’re having trouble breaking tasks into bite-sized pieces, enlist a friend or therapist to create a plan that will work for you. (More on this later.)
Similarly, for those high-anxiety moments in the hiring process such as a job interview, it can’t be said enough — practice, practice, practice.
“Rehearsing is helpful,” says Schewitz. “Do some mock interviews just so you can get into that experience of having to answer things off the top of your head, and getting a lot of questions thrown at you so that you get more comfortable with that experience.”
Practicing your interview chops not only boosts your confidence that you can handle whatever an interviewer might throw at you, but it can take away the anxiety of saying the wrong thing. Try rehearsing and role play interviewing with another person who can provide honest feedback about your answers to show off your skill set in a positive light. Iron out the bumps in practice so you’re ready to go when potential employers come calling.
Another skill you want to have in your back pocket is a little bit of mindfulness and relaxation breathing exercises, which can train your body to stay calm.
Schewitz recommends getting in the habit of using basic breathing exercises to ground yourself. Close your eyes, take several deep breaths from the diaphragm, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Repeating this simple exercise relaxes both your mind and body. Doing this regularly builds muscle memory so that taking deep breaths in more stressful situations will lend itself to the same calming effect on your physiology.
“If you get nervous in a job interview it’s easy just to take a couple of deep breaths more inconspicuously and immediately your body’s going to go, ‘Oh yeah. This means relax’,” adds Schewitz. “Your body’s going chill out a bit.”
Look, we know that hunting for jobs, rewriting that cover letter for every new position, and preparing for interviews takes a lot of energy, and now doesn’t seem like the time to take a rest. But your mental health needs a break from the stress and pressure of the job hunt to stay sharp and engaged in the process.
”It’s so important to take time during the day to relax and sit down,” corporate wellness consultant Belinda Murphy revealed to Jobbio. “You can then face whatever you need to face and it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. It is important to check in with yourself and your own well-being.”
Taking a break doesn’t just mean vegging on the couch, but also finding time for positive hobbies such as playing sports, cooking, crafts, and whatever other activities bring you a little joy. According to Murphy, building in positive activities helps refuel your system, especially when a big, stressful interview is approaching. Not to mention, a little joy can go a long way toward boosting your mental health.
Get Professional Support
If you’re going into a highly stressful situation, and let’s face it, job hunting is one of those times, having professional support on your side certainly can’t hurt.
A therapist will help you manage your mental health throughout the process, including teaching you crucial skills to get organized, battle anxiety, climb out of depression, or work with other mental health symptoms that impact your search. They can also lend an empathetic ear when the process isn’t going as well as you hope and celebrate all the successes you will have along the way. After all, who else will truly understand the heroic effort getting out of bed and applying for a single job can take when you’re living with mental health issues.
Another kind of support you might want to consider? A career coach who can also help your efforts with organization, job searches, sprucing up those application materials, rehearsing interviews, and more. The more support you have during hiring season, the better.
Whether you’re looking to leave a job you hate, want new opportunities, or have been out of work for awhile and need a new gig stat, we hope these helpful hints to address your mental health this hiring season will lead straight to your dream job.