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How to Minimize Job Search Blues and Maximize Job Search Excitement

Few things in life can be more depressing or anxiety provoking than looking for employment. At the same time, untreated depression and anxiety can lead the job search process to a complete stand still. As a way of commemorating Mental Health Awareness Month, the LEAD Center has asked me, Dr. Debra Kissen, co-chair of Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) Public Education Committee and Clinical Director for the Light on Anxiety Treatment Center, to outline strategies people with psychiatric and other disabilities can use to maintain or improve their mental health while looking for work.

The job search process is by definition stressful. But stress need not lead to depression and anxiety if you follow the simple tips below.:

1. Create structure for your day. Don’t tell yourself you are going to spend all day working on “finding a job.”. Instead be specific and assign timeslots for all of your tasks you hope to accomplish.    

For example:

  • 9:00-11:00 apply for jobs
  • 11:30-12:00 stretch, go for brief walk, small snack
  • 12:00 -1:00 network via LinkediIn and send emails to university alumni
  • 1:00-2:00 lunch and walk
  • 3:00-4:00 read professional journal to stay current on industry trends
  • 4:00-5:00 Meetup networking group

NOTE TO SELF: I will stay off social media and other internet sites that suck me in for limitless amounts of time during my “work day”

2. Be realistic. Job search tasks can be mentally taxing and emotionally draining.    No one can or should sustain more than two hour stretches of high concentration- related tasks, such as applying for jobs and updating resumes/cover letters. That does not mean the rest of the day should be filled with brain numbing tasks such as mindlessly perusing the internet for any image or sentence that grabs your attention. What it does means is that balance of activities is required to not only survive, but also thrive during the job search process.

On top of direct job search- related tasks, fill your day with other activities that are personally meaningful and energizing to YOU. There are many good workbooks to assist with the process of determining what matters to you such as, “Get Out of Your Head & Into Your Life,” by Steve Hayes.

Do activities that coincide with your values and that get you out of the house. You could try volunteering for a charity, joining an exercise class or attending an event sponsored by your house of worship. The hard part is forcing yourself to engage in these activities when you may feel anxious and depressed due to the stress of the job search process.   Remember, there is nothing wrong with using a little compassionate “tough love” to force yourself to function, even when parts of your brain want to curl up in the fetal position and hide out until life somehow magically changes.

3. Go "to work" even when you're not going to work. I have many clients that tell me they do their best work and they are their most effective when working from home. But I must admit, I just don't buy it. I have no data to support the theory I am about to propose, but with that disclaimer, I will share my beliefs regarding working from home.   When working from home, our brain realizes we are in a safe, cozy space and does not feel the need to be as activated or alert as it does in “non-home” environments. If you are determined to spend part of the day applying for jobs and doing other job search- related behaviors from home, I would still recommend pushing yourself to find other secondary work environments. It could be your favorite Starbucks or the new coffee shop down the street with a cool vibe or your local library or a friend’s apartment or the park. It does not matter where you go when you “go to work.”. What does matter is that you leave the house for part of the day.

4. Basic self-care matters. Good nutrition, exercise and quality sleep set your brain and body up for productivity. Just because you don't have a set schedule does not mean you should let your body's clock run wild and wake up at any time and go to bed whenever your Netflix binge is over. Set your alarm for the same time every day, for around the time the average work day would begin, and give yourself a cut off point for when you'll be done using technology, ideally by 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. PM.  

5. Find connections. There is nothing more soul sucking than isolation. When you are not working or in school there is a tendency to become socially isolated. You are going to have to work at this, but join Meet up groups or local civic organizations or a stamp collecting group or anything else that gets you connected with others.

Remember that the job search process can be quite anxiety ridden and depressing and there's no shame in getting additional support. There are many qualified therapists who can give you the added boost that you need to successfully move through the job search process.   To find a qualified cognitive behavioral therapist I recommend checking out the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website to find a therapist resource. 

Dr. Debra Kissen is the Clinical Director of the Light on Anxiety Treatment Center of Chicago. She specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy based treatment to children, adolescents and adults with a focus on anxiety and stress-related disorders, including OCD, PTSD, panic disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobias, separation anxiety disorder, compulsive skin picking, trichotillomania and other Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs). Dr. Kissen applies the principles of evidence-based treatments while at the same time treating the whole person, with deep respect for the human spirit and the challenges we all face on our journey through life.

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