Self-Care Tips: Dealing with Job Search Depression


Author: Micaela Marini Higgs Source: New York Times

Looking for a new job but having zero luck getting hired can be, to put it lightly, incredibly demoralizing.

As it turns out, “the data supports the conventional wisdom,” said Dan Witters, a principal and research director at the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index.

While research shows that people experience an increased sense of well-being just after losing their jobs, that trend reverses if they’re still hunting after 10 to 12 weeks. On top of the obvious financial stress that comes with being unemployed or underemployed, these groups also suffer from worse physical health, with rates of depression rising among the unemployed the longer they go without finding work.

The solution to job-search depression isn’t as easy as hitting the pavement and sending out more résumés. Even strong candidates aren’t guaranteed success, creating “this constant uncertainty of not knowing when the job search will end,” said Michelle Maidenberg, an adjunct graduate professor of cognitive behavioral therapy and human behavior at the Silver School of Social Work at N.Y.U. with a private practice in Harrison, N.Y.

Dealing emotionally with this sort of adversity is a skill few of us have been taught, and it requires building new habits in our personal lives.

If it feels as if your well-being is on hold while you focus on bigger things — like a job hunt — consider this: The emotional and mental health outcomes of unemployment can create “a feedback mechanism where the longer you go, the harder it is on your emotional health,” Mr. Witters said. “The worse your emotional health is, the harder it is to find a job.”

Whether you’re suffering from job-search depression or happily employed, learning the coping mechanisms needed to deal with things like uncertainty and loss of control will always come in handy, Dr. Maidenberg said.

You are more than your career

“So much of who we are is wrapped up in work, but you are more than your job,” said Alison Doyle, a job search expert at the Balance Careers, part of the Balance family of sites, which offer advice on such topics as personal finance, careers and small business.

When people imagine job-search depression, they often attribute it to financial instability and frequent rejection, but it turns out that “identity is a much bigger piece of the puzzle than people had previously thought,” said Dawn R. Norris, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and the author of “Job Loss, Identity, and Mental Health.”

“In fact, many of the people in my study said it was the most important thing to them, even beyond financial problems,” she said. Those who listed financial concerns as their top source of stress often cited a perceived loss of identity as a close second.

The perception that we are our work is a major reason the job search, and receiving constant messages that we aren’t who we think we are, is so distressing.

“If your identity is threatened, you need an identity-based solution,” Dr. Norris said.

The solution: Recognize that your personality is made up of a diverse range of experiences, interests and values — not just your employment status — and “have other areas in your life that you can lean on as a source of joy and confidence.” This is pivotal to coping with job loss, Dr. Maidenberg said.

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