Job Seeking When Struggling with Depression and Anxiety
If you’ve recently lost your job and are feeling depressed, you’re not alone. There is a large body of research showing that unemployment is linked to depression, anxiety, and reduced life satisfaction, all of which have been occurring at higher-than-normal levels since the coronavirus pandemic began. According to the Douglas Foundation, 78% of Canadians who have lost paid employment since the beginning of the pandemic show signs of depression.
Even Canadians who haven’t lost their jobs are seeing huge impacts to their mental health. A recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute found that 50% of Canadians reported worsening mental health since the pandemic began with many feeling worried (44%) and anxious (41%).
I know how unsettling and overwhelming unemployment or job insecurity can be, and that’s why I offer multiple kinds of support to my clients -- strategies on how to tackle your job search, as well as encouragement and an empathetic ear.
In these difficult times, it’s especially important to have coping strategies and smart, manageable goals as you work toward your professional objectives, which is why I’ve gathered some key strategies for you here.
1. Recognize You’re Not Alone Losing a job -- especially during a pandemic -- can be an extremely isolating experience, so it’s important to remember that you’re not alone in dealing with this hardship. Make an effort to stay connected to those around you. Your family and friends can provide emotional support during this time, and you may have former colleagues and other contacts who are dealing with the same loss and can commiserate with your experience. Talking (or writing) about your feelings, frustrations, and ideas can be a great way to process them and help you regain a sense of control.
2. Be Kind to Yourself When you feel like you're at the bottom of a hole (or bouncing off the walls with restlessness), focusing on tackling your job search can feel daunting. Like, impossible. In these moments, it's important to be kind to yourself rather than heaping judgment onto your already off-kilter state.
Mindset is crucial during these times, so avoiding judgmental and black-and-white-thinking (I'll never get another job. No one wants to hire me. The economy is in shambles. There's no way I'll be successful) is an important first step. When you start hearing those judgemental and critical voices in your head, try, instead, to practice self-compassion. Sometimes it helps to imagine that you’re a close friend or loved one. What would you say to your best friend in this situation? Can you send a more supportive and warm message to yourself? (Things are hard right now, and you’re managing a lot. It won’t always be this way. I’m so proud of you for sticking with this. You’re having a hard day, and that’s okay). How can you extend yourself the kindness that you extend to others whom you love?
3. Tackle Negative Self-talk In addition to practicing self-compassion, broadly becoming aware of negative self-talk is key to dealing with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Dr. Ethan Kross, experimental psychologist and neuroscientist in his newly published book "Chatter: The Voice in Our Head and How to Harness It" recommends practicing distanced self-talk, a quick hack to provide some emotional perspective and a greater sense of calmness.
To practice distanced self-talk, speak to yourself as if you were speaking to another person: "Heather, calm down. This isn't the end of the world and won't even matter in a couple of years." Other mental health professionals often suggest practicing thought defusion techniques. Instead of getting wrapped up in a thought, for example, "I'm inadequate," practice noticing the thought. Then, reiterate the thought from a distance: "I'm having the thought that I'm inadequate" or "I'm noticing that I'm having the thought that I'm inadequate." Techniques like these can be helpful in achieving distance from our negative thought patterns and recognizing that our thoughts don't always reflect reality.
4. Set a Routine Having a daily schedule can help fend off a sense of overwhelm and stagnation during periods of unemployment, as well as empowering you with a sense of ownership over the elements of your life that you can control. I recommend that my clients use time blocking (e.g. “every day from 11 am to 12 pm I will reach out to people from my network”) to lend structure to the workday and keep goals on track. Bill Howatt, the chief of research for workforce productivity at the Conference Board of Canada, agrees, noting that, “I tell people the most important thing to do, right off the bat in this situation, is to plan out your day as best you can. Get up, get dressed, get a routine going and try to follow it daily.”
5. Break Down Goals into Concrete and Manageable Tasks The idea of securing a new job – especially during this time – can feel like staring at a large and daunting mountain. However, as Lao Tzu says, "a journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step." Break down the process into measurable and manageable steps. At the end of each day, you can feel satisfied that you completed what you set out to accomplish.
For this strategy to be most effective, you should also ensure that the steps you take are ones that will bring you the highest odds of success. A lot of people don't realize this, but applying to job advertisements (particularly without a referral) can be a pretty fruitless strategy. Furthermore, during this time of economic strain employers often receive double or triple the number of applications they normally receive for advertised roles. In contrast, networking with your friends, acquaintances, former colleagues, and new connections can be a much more dynamic approach. Examples of great, concrete, daily, or weekly goals might be:
Reach out to ten new people to build your network.
Reach out to ten people already in your network; ask to reconnect over a ‘virtual coffee.’
Comment on three LinkedIn articles, adding your unique professional perspective.
Map out three organizations of interest (recording contact information for key decision-makers).
Especially during periods when you have limited energy and focus, I recommend devoting the majority of your time to networking as opposed to applying to job ads. I like an 80/20 split.
If you start feeling stuck and doubting whether you truly have a network, write down all of the people that you know (from former colleagues to acquaintances to even service providers - like your hairdresser). Next time you interact with these individuals, you can mention the types of roles and organizations you’re targeting and ask if they know of anyone who might be a good connection.
If you’re new to the country or genuinely don’t have a large network, then you can begin networking by reaching out to people like you on LinkedIn (e.g., individuals in roles you’re targeting who have also relocated from another country). Request 15 minutes of their time and ask to hear more about their experience and any advice they could offer you.
6. Acknowledge Your Good and Bad Days Returning to the idea of self-compassion, recognize that you’ll have good days and bad days, and that you may have varying capacity for certain kinds of tasks from one day to the next. You’re not a robot, after all. For example, on good days you might focus on networking and building connections, and on other days you may not feel up to that. If you’re having a particularly bad day, remember to be gentle with yourself. Instead of networking, perhaps you can spend some time building a list of organizations and people of interest for future contact.
7. List Your Strengths and Accomplishments Making a list of your professional strengths and accomplishments is a good activity for boosting spirits, but it’s also important for crafting your elevator pitch and articulating your “value add” to prospective employers. If you have trouble talking about (and believing) why you’re great, it may be very difficult to convey your positive and unique qualities to potential employers. Making a list of your strengths and key accomplishments can help bolster confidence, and -- if all else fails -- perhaps it can at least help you “fake it ‘til you make it.”
When listing past accomplishments, try to link your job actions to larger organizational outcomes. For example, “Led marketing campaign for X product, which resulted in Y% revenue increase.” If you become stuck, ask friends and former colleagues for assistance. They will likely be eager to remind you why you’re great!
8. Practice Meditation and Mindfulness In the swirl of information, to-do lists, and stress, finding moments of peace, silence, and reflection is crucial to your wellbeing. These days there are a multitude of resources available for beginning meditators, such as the popular apps Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer. Designate at least one time per day that you can set aside a few minutes to close your eyes and be present -- perhaps first thing in the morning, before starting your workday, or before bed. Even better: set reminders on your computer or phone to take short breaks from work so that you can rest and reset your brain.
Many people like the support and structure of using an app or other system, but they’re certainly not necessary: Just sitting with your breath can be a really important and grounding practice, and even five minutes of mindfulness can make a positive impact on your nervous system and mood.
You can also turn walks and other daily activities into a moving meditation. Focus on your feet hitting the ground, the feel of the air on your face, the sights and sounds surrounding you. When showering, notice the feel of the spray on your skin, the temperature of the water and air, the sound the water makes, etc. Tuning into your senses during these mundane moments can help get you out of your head, even if temporarily, and ground you in present.
9. Seek Professional Help Sometimes, all the meditation apps, consistent routines, and supportive friends in the world aren’t enough to break the cycle of depression and anxiety. I know. I’ve been there myself! If that’s where you are, it’s important to reach out to a mental health professional for support. There’s no need to suffer in silence. Mental health professionals have a variety of tools and strategies they can share to help you address your particular challenges and needs; they are trained to help you get out from under your depression so you can start living a vibrant and fulfilling life once again.
Additionally, there are a number of free resources available. The federal government has launched Wellness Together Canada, a portal designed to connect people with mental health and substance use support: https://ca.portal.gs/
As a result of the pandemic, the Ontario government has also worked with public and private-sector partners to develop free online mental health programs and resources. These include:
MindBeacon: https://info.mindbeacon.com/btn542 and Morneau Shepell: https://ontario.abiliticbt.com/home
The Canadian Mental Health Association also offers support through the Bounceback Program (which includes up to 6 coaching sessions): https://bouncebackontario.ca/
Please know that you're not alone. There is help and it won't always feel this difficult.