Five tips for dealing with stress when looking for work
Stress. Unfortunately, we just can’t live without it.
It’s unavoidable that we all experience stress at some point in our lives. In fact, these past 12 pandemic-filled months could be considered one of the largest shared stressful experiences in recent history.
Looking for work is often another source of stress for many people too – with 81% of those we recently surveyed* saying they found searching a new job stressful.
But where does this stress come from? And if we can’t avoid it, how can we harness it, and use stress to our advantage?
What is stress?
The NHS defines stress as: ‘the body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure.’
There’s no question that too much of it can undoubtedly affect our lives; from our mental health and physical wellbeing, right through to our relationships with family and friends.
However, it’s completely normal and is something that affects all of us. Furthermore, it can actually motivate us to hit our goals if we learn to harness it in the right way.
What is stress tolerance?
We all possess our own level of ‘stress tolerance’ – our capacity to withstand pressure and our ability to function effectively under conditions of stress.
If you’re worried your own stress tolerance level isn’t particularly high, don’t panic. There are some practical actions you can undertake to increase your stress tolerance level – and learn how to manage stress in a way that works for you.
How to deal with stress when looking for work
- Acknowledge we all have our own in-built stress response
Humans have evolved various mechanisms to increase our chances of survival., One of which is the stress response (also known as the Fight-or-Flight response).
When we perceive a threat, our body starts to provide a response to help. This response initially helped stave off the threat of predators, literally helping us to stay alive! However, in the context of modern-day environments, this stress response can become activated more commonly as a result of psychological stressors rather than physical. For example, looking for work.
We might perceive a threat to be: finding a new job as quickly as possible, writing a compelling CV, or performing well at an interview. Think about how your body reacts when you are in these situations. Can you feel your heart pounding? Do you get sweaty palms? Do you feel tension in your muscles? These are all signs your stress response has been activated.
Acknowledge and notice when this is happening. Remember, this is a completely normal part of being human. Acknowledging it, noticing your triggers and accepting this, is the first step in harnessing your stress response.
- Reframe how you think about stress
One person’s exciting pressure is another person’s scary stressful situation.
The next time you notice your stress response and have identified what ‘threat’ has triggered this, instead of perceiving this situation as a threat, try and change the way you think about it – and learn to turn the negative into a positive.
Remember: whilst we might not be able to control the exact circumstances of the situation, we can control how we respond to it, and how it makes us feel as a result. Reframing stress and experiencing it in a more positive way paves the way for feeling motivated, excited and energised. Key factors that can help aid performance (and help you find your perfect job).
- Don’t waste energy – focus on what you can control
If you’re feeling a sense of anxiety about looking for work, make a list of factors that are out of your control and seek to ‘balance out’ those factors with things that you can control.
For example, you might not be able to control whether or not a recruiter responds to your application. However, you might follow up a few weeks after you apply to ask for feedback, which is something you can control. Similarly, the prospect of a virtual interview process may be scary, particularly if it’s something you’ve never done before. But if you practice your video interview technique beforehand, by asking a friend to test you using the same service, you’ll be able to avoid any technical difficulties – and be less stressed when it comes to the real thing.
If you find your mind is still wandering toward factors outside your control, set a specific set time aside everyday to think about these worries. This will help to contain worrying and reduce anxiety so it doesn’t impact on the whole of your day. Leaving you with more energy to focus on the factors within your control.
- Be kind to your mind (and your body)
Maintaining your mental health is a crucial defence strategy against negative impacts of stress, such as low mood. Particularly when you’re looking for work.
Actions you can undertake to support your mental health include: mindfulness practice, getting quality sleep, eating well, exercising and taking time to talk with friends or family. And it isn’t just about exercising your mind.
Physical exercise releases feel-good hormones, helping to relieve negative symptoms of stress. Find something you enjoy, or a means to make exercise more enjoyable. Whether it’s meeting up with a friend for a walk, or joining an online workout session to help you stay motivated.
So take regular breaks from your job search, practice mindfulness, and move more. Even something as simple as practicing breathing exercises during the day will help you relax, and could pay dividends when it comes to your productivity.
- Put things into perspective
Finally, when experiencing intense stress it can be difficult to think straight, and stay focused. In these instances it’s key to gain a sense of perspective to help manage the situation.
It’s important to find your own ‘go-to’ technique here. Suggestions include: asking yourself if this situation will still be as much of a worry in a few weeks time. Which could be the process of applying for a job you really want, for example. Or the nerve wracking feeling of a job interview. Taking a step back will allow you to put things into perspective, and help you manage the situation effectively. Another simple (but valuable) technique can be taking regular breaks away from your desk, allowing a physical separation to facilitate you in seeing the bigger picture. .
Whatever technique you choose, finding a sense of perspective will help keep stress levels at bay. Not to mention allow you to focus your positive energy on finding the right role.
Helpful resources to help you deal with stress
If you’re feeling overwhelmed right now with your job search or career development, we’re here to help.
Our online guides cover everything from how to deal with stress in an interview, and overcoming exam stress, through to advice on how to talk about mental health at work, mindfulness tips, and how to keep your mental health in check whilst working from home.
We also highly recommend visiting the Every Mind Matters site. Every Mind Matters has been created by Public Health England, with tips and advice developed with experts and approved by the NHS.
Every Mind Matters gives you simple and practical advice to get a healthier mind and get more out of life – from how to deal with stress and anxiety, to boosting your mood or sleeping better. It will help you spot the signs of common mental health conditions, get personalised practical self-care tips and information on further support. You’ll also learn about what you can do to help others.
To find out more, visit Every Mind Matters today.
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*Data taken from an online survey of 2,001 adults aged 18-64 in the UK who are either employed (full- or part-time), furloughed or unemployed. Survey conducted in January 2021 by Atomik Research on behalf of reed.co.uk.
Guest Post written by Rebecca Harris (BSc HONS): Health and Wellbeing Adviser and Wellbeing Champion Representative for Reed Wellbeing.
- Over 6 years experience designing and delivering Wellbeing Workshops for both private and public sector organisations
- Extensive knowledge in a variety of Wellbeing topics and Behaviour Change techniques
- Special interest in Workplace Wellbeing – Level 7 Module in Workplace Health and Wellbeing
- Experience in delivering tailored Wellbeing improvement strategies on a 1-1 and group basis
Reed Wellbeing delivers high impact lifestyle services that help people improve their health. It provides easy-to-access, effective interventions that address a range of lifestyle issues. With its support, people make sustainable change that will help them improve their wellbeing, become healthier and reduce their chances of developing illnesses. 115,000 people have already benefited from services offered by Reed Wellbeing since 2015.