Job hunting can be tough on our mental health at the best of times. Alongside having to deal with the disappointment of rejection and the anxiety of job interviews, writing job applications and cover letters day-in, day-out can be a tedious and emotionally draining process for anyone.
But thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the impact of the recession on the UK’s job market, that search has been made a whole lot harder. And as a result, knowing how to set healthy boundaries throughout the process and look after your mental health when things get tough is important, especially if you’ve reached a point of job hunt fatigue or burnout.
“Job hunting and continuous rejection can have a detrimental impact on our mental health,” explains Amina Ispahani, a counsellor and psychotherapist. “If you have recently been made redundant or unemployed, you may still be coping with the mental impact of losing your job. This can generate feelings of grief, which may include a sense of confusion, anger or disbelief.”
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Ispahani continues: “Losing a job has both a practical and emotional impact – there is a very real and practical need for financial security to pay the bills, however, it can also be interwoven with our sense of identity and self-worth. A loss of self-worth can in turn impact on our confidence and motivation in applying for jobs.
“When applying for jobs we are often faced with a lot of uncertainty and it can feel like there is no end in sight. This uncertainty feeds into anxiety and breeds more self-doubt, which makes the job hunting process feel even more unmanageable.
According to Ispahani, the emotional strain that comes with job hunting can lead people to experience a number of challenging emotions and side effects, including a fear of judgement, rumination (in which someone experiences negative thoughts and anxiety about themselves and the future), a lack of motivation and a lack of purpose.
Arit Eminue, an award-winning entrepreneur, career and business coach, agrees that job hunting can take its toll on your mental health. “Repeated rejection can really knock your confidence,” she says. “It’s a mixture of physical and emotional exhaustion – not just because of the job hunting itself, but also because of the pressures people might be facing while searching for that job.”
Because job hunting can be such an exhausting process, it’s important to take action to protect yourself from fatigue and burnout as you move through the process. To find out more about how you can do just that, we asked Ispahani and Eminue to share their top tips for taking care of yourself during this uniquely challenging time. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Establish healthy boundaries
If job hunting is now your full time job, it’s important to establish a work/life balance just as you would in any role.
“Keep a routine,” Ispahani recommends. “Have set hours in which you apply for jobs and ensure your day is varied to avoid burnout. Start the morning with whatever kick starts your day well – e.g. exercise or mediation – and have a set timeframe in which you apply for jobs, with regular breaks.
“Have a cut-off point in the day for applications and give yourself something to look forward to in the late afternoon or evening.”
Eminue also advises setting strict ‘working’ hours so you’re applying for jobs when your energy levels are at their peak.
“Be honest with yourself and set working hours which work for you,” she says. “It might be that your job search hours are 10am to 1pm, and that’s perfectly fine – it doesn’t have to be the entire day, it has to be what works best for you.
“Set those hours around when you work at your best – I’m an early bird so I know I work best in the morning. So set your working hours around your natural body clock and your highest points of energy.”
2. Set realistic goals
Securing a job might be your overall goal, but it’s important to set yourself smaller, controllable aims in the interim.
“Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t set yourself up to fail by giving yourself unrealistic targets like applying for 10 jobs in a day,” Eminue says. “Keep it manageable – those daily wins are what will help you to keep your confidence going.
“For example, you might say ‘I’m going to apply for one job today and attend an online networking session’ – and once you’ve done that, you can give yourself a little fist pump and celebrate that win.”
3. Focus on quality over quantity
It can be tempting to apply for every job you see when you’re desperate for a job – but doing so could actually have a detrimental impact on your chances of success. Instead, targeting your search – and focusing on the quality of your applications – is likely to boost your chances.
“When you’re looking for a job and you’ve got bills to pay it’s tempting to apply for everything – but that can be exhausting in itself,” Eminue says. “Be more strategic about it – as a recruiter, I can tell when you’re spreading yourself thin because there’s no passion and interest in the business.”
To make targeting your applications a little easier, Eminue recommends writing your own job description, to help you visualise the kind of role you’re looking for.
“Think about the jobs that you’ve done, what you’ve enjoyed in those roles, where you want to go next career wise, and then start writing a job description for yourself around that,” she says.
“Consider what your daily duties would be – would you be reporting directly to a CEO, or would you like to have a line manager above you? Do you thrive better in a small organisation or a larger, corporate one? Are you looking for something in the charitable or private sector? Do you want to work from home, be in the office or have a flexible arrangement? What kind of salary do you want to earn?
“When you write all of that down, it gives you an idea of what really matters to you – you can work out what’s essential and what’s negotiable, and then schedule your search from there.”
4. Allow yourself to feel low
Focusing on the positives and celebrating the small wins are all well and good – but it’s important to remember it’s OK to feel low, anxious or frustrated during this period.
“Allow yourself to experience your feelings; anxiety, frustration and sadness are all normal,” Ispahani says. “Try to empathise with yourself in a difficult situation – remind yourself that it’s OK to feel uncertain about the future.”
5. Be kind to yourself
It may sound pretty obvious, but taking the time to be intentionally kind to yourself and celebrate your hard work is even more important during an emotionally testing period.
“Be kind to yourself, both in your words and in your actions,” Ispahani says. “If you find you are focusing on your failures, try to shift the narrative. Speak to yourself more positively – rather than ‘I’m so useless’ try ‘I’ve done really well to get through another difficult day of job applications at such a tough time – well done me.’
“Practice self-care – sleep enough, eat well, exercise and maintain a balance – do things you enjoy as well.”
Thinking about who you’re following on social media – and unfollowing any accounts that are making you feel worse about yourself – is also a good idea, Eminue advises.
“Self-care isn’t just about spas and bingeing Netflix – it’s also about who you’re following on social media,” she says. “If you’re constantly looking at people who are living their best life (so it would seem) and you feel like you’re not, then that can impact your mental health.
“Instead, look for those people that you follow who really inspire you, and try to follow more people like that. It’s not called a social media feed for nothing – you digest everything you read so be very conscious about who you’re choosing to follow, especially during this period.”
6. Give yourself a break
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, upset or simply in need of a break, it’s time to take a step back. While for some people, this might mean doing something other than applying for jobs such as volunteering or doing additional training, for others, this might simply mean spending time with family or doing something you enjoy.
“It’s very important that you take some time out – especially if you’ve lost your social network from work,” Eminue says. “You can create that in different ways, whether it’s through online networking, volunteering, offering support to local small businesses or getting on websites like People Per Hour and offering your services.
“It’s just about doing something with your time besides looking for work.”
Ispahani agrees, and says that if job hunt fatigue is really getting to you, it could be a good idea to take a more prolonged period of time away from your laptop.
“It is important to acknowledge that when you’re feeling low and demotivated, it can feel very hard to put these tips into practice,” she explains. “Just remember, that is natural and okay.
“If you find can’t face applying for jobs, then give yourself that day off. Taking a much-needed break can help you to be more effective when you go back to the job hunt with a fresh mind.”
If working from home is taking its toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. From the isolation of being separated from colleagues and the stress of communicating via technology to the threat of redundancy and the anxiety of applying for a new job, there are a number of reasons why you might find this time particularly challenging.
So, what can we do about it? We’ve got a plan.
Our new Work It Out campaign, supported by Mind, aims to give you the tools and resources you need to take care of your mental health while you’re stuck at home. From completing your Work 5 A Day to dealing with issues including to anxiety, loneliness and stress, we’ll be exploring all aspects of wellbeing during this strange time.
For more information, including how to complete your Work 5 A Day, you can check out our guide to getting started.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on mental health charity Mind’s website or see the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations here.
For confidential support you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email email@example.com.
As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.