There’s no doubt that being unemployed comes with its challenges. But personally I have always chosen to view it positively.
At the beginning of my career I was unemployed for one and a half years, so quite a long time! I was fortunate in that when my job came to an end I viewed it as an opportunity to move on to something else. I was also fortunate at the time to be supported by unemployment benefits, have no children or partner, and so have a lower financial burden than most. I was still able to pay rent and buy groceries, which is not necessarily true for everyone.
I understand that for people with a family this is different, and can increase the anxiety you feel at the thought of being unemployed. I also understand that for some, when you suddenly lose a job it’s not something you are mentally prepared for. This makes it more difficult to see things in a positive light. But I do believe it’s possible, and also necessary for your mental health.
The ups and downs of job hunting
I’d be lying if I said job hunting was fun, exciting and everybody loved it. We all know it’s hard!
It takes a lot of effort to fill out job applications, tailor your CV and write good cover letters. And that’s after you’ve spent time sifting through countless job adverts, reading what sometimes seem like crazy descriptions. On top of that you have to make sure you don’t miss the application deadline, follow-up with recruiters and hiring managers, and keep track of which jobs you have applied to.
Then there’s preparing for interviews, completing challenges or assignments (increasingly becoming more common) and of course the wait. Sitting by the phone, waiting to be called back and hear whether you got the job or not. Not only is it a full time job, but it can also be emotionally exhausting.
While there is always a silver lining to every situation, most of us do rely on a job to be able to pay the bills. Even though we may be supported by unemployment benefits, they don’t last forever so we all can feel the time pressure of needing to return to employment. And for most of us, we enjoy work because it keeps us occupied and gives us purpose.
What you might feel during your job search
Considering the above, here are a few different things you might be experiencing as you go through your job hunt that can impact your mental health.
- Anxiety. Anxiety is basically your fears, amplified. Irrational thoughts about worst-case scenarios can start running through your mind. It can be coupled with heart palpitations, sweating, and even anxiety attacks. It’s normal to start feeling this way since you are in a situation of uncertainty, and presumably like most people, you need a job to keep surviving.
- Fear. Not as intense as anxiety but you might be feeling fearful or worried about the future. You might be worried about whether you will find a job again, if you’ll be able to support your family or how your life will be affected.
- Sadness. If you lost your job unexpectedly or if you’re not enjoying being unemployed then you might be sad. You might be sad to no longer see your colleagues or because you liked your job. You might also be sad that your daily routine has changed and you have to face this new reality.
- Anger. Same as above, except rather than being sad you are feeling angry. Maybe you resent your previous employer because things didn’t end well, or maybe you are angry with the universe for being in this situation. Maybe you’re even angry with yourself!
- Frustration. Because you keep getting rejections or worse still, no one is even bothering to reply. Frustrated because of the ridiculous requirements of certain jobs, or because you can’t find any job that matches what you’re looking for. Frustrated for being in this situation for too long, and things not going as fast as you would like.
- Nervous. You finally landed an interview and this is it! It’s nerve-wracking to go to an interview, even for the most confident among us. You want to make a good impression, make sure you know enough about the company and show the best version of yourself.
- Disappointed. Of course, you will be disappointed at times. The hardest part is not getting called to interview for the job where you were a perfect match, or not getting the job offer when you thought you aced the interview.
- Self-Doubt. Perhaps the most difficult feeling of all. As you go through a period of unemployment it’s natural to start doubting yourself, particularly if you don’t find a job quickly. You can get into your own head and start asking yourself why no-one is calling you back. Perhaps it’s because you’re not good enough? Maybe you need to add another skill to your list… Perhaps you even start revisiting old mistakes from the past or questioning whether you will be good enough once you get a new job.
First of all, it’s completely normal to feel one, some, or all of the above. Don’t worry or start wondering if you’re the only one: you’re not! You’re experiencing a situation of uncertainty, and certain things are out of your control. It’s natural to go through a variety of different emotions about your situation. So don’t beat yourself up, stay calm, and keep reading for tips on what you can do.
Things you can do for your mental health
Most of these tips can be applied to any type of situation in which your mental health might be suffering and aren’t specific to job hunting. However, you may feel adding some of these tips to your life while searching for your next career particularly helpful.
- Create a routine and schedule breaks. Even though job searching is your new full-time job, you need breaks. Create a routine for doing it: start with it every morning or only limit yourself to weekdays, whatever works for you. Don’t let your job search become so pervasive to the point that you are thinking about it or doing it all the time. Much as with a regular job, you need downtime so you can enjoy other activities, be with your family and friends, and rest.
- Meditate. Meditation can be helpful to calm your mind from the fear, anxiety or other thoughts that you feel might be getting the better of you at times. It doesn’t have to be hours sitting on a cushion, it can be a simple 5-minute break to clear your mind. Headspace has a ton of short and accessible exercises to help with that.
- List your strengths. In case the self-doubt is creeping in or even before it does, take a few minutes to reflect on and list your strengths and achievements. This is a great exercise to help you build resilience, and can also help you be prepared for interviews and writing motivation letters.
- Practice practice practice. Build up your confidence for interviews by practicing. You can list interview questions, practice speaking your answers out loud, or ask someone to interview you. There are multiple ways you can help yourself feel better prepared for when you get called to interview, allowing you to walk into the room more confident and perhaps even a little bit excited.
- Focus on yourself. As I said in the beginning, I personally believe unemployment can be positive. It’s a time for yourself. A time for you to reflect, think about what you want to do next and where you want to take your career. It might also be a time for you to slow down and recover if you were in a fast-paced job. Or it might be time for you to focus a bit more on your hobbies, clean out your closet, etc. I know it’s not a vacation, but you still have time to dedicate to things you wouldn’t normally be able to.
- See the positive side of things. There is always a positive side to be seen, and the more you can focus your energy on it the better. For example, you might be learning new things during your job search, or you might have more time to cook and eat healthier. You might consider a career path you’d never thought of before that’s exciting or you might come across your dream job and actually get it. No matter what it is, allow it to brighten your day and give you hope.
Defying normality and definitions of unemployment
There are just two last tips I’d like to share.
First of all, don’t believe everything people tell you about unemployment. As with many things, there is a lot of fear-mongering out there. Some people will tell you that it’s going to be really hard, grueling and depressing. And of course, it’s portrayed as very negative by the media. The stigma around being unemployed makes it difficult for people to fully own their status. But any experience is what you make of it and is uniquely your own. So stay level headed, and just take things as they come, one day at a time.
Secondly, I believe we often struggle with unemployment because our identities have become very tied up and intermingled with our jobs. This doesn’t have to be negative, but it certainly means people suffer when they become jobless as they suddenly question themselves and their purpose, perhaps even their self-worth. While I’m not saying it’s wrong for your job to be your identity, I’d just invite you to look at that more closely. If this is how you feel, how is it serving you? Could this potentially be doing you more harm than good? If you think it may be having a negative impact then take time to rethink your relationship with work. Now is your chance to change it and create a new paradigm that works better for you.
What can you do next?
At any time remember that if you need help there are solutions out there and you are not alone. If you’d rather talk to someone outside your circle, you can always get in touch to meet one of our coaches. Coaches are great support during your job search as they can help you define your goals and build your motivation. If you’re unemployed, our coaching is free for you. You can sign up here.
If you want to find out more about mental health then check out That’s Mental, a platform to talk freely about mental health.
Most importantly, remember that this moment won’t last forever. This too shall pass. So stay strong, hang in there, and tell yourself you got this!