Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety and Stress in the Job Search

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I often get requests for career help issues that are a bit unrelated to the common needs of resume writing and job hunting. One that I hear consistently is: “How should I handle stress and anxiety?”

That’s a pretty broad area to delve into, but we’re not looking for a panacea for global anxiety in the 21st century.

Instead, we’re talking about stress and anxiety as they arise in the job search and in job interviews, and, in that respect, there are two distinct sides to any solution to the problem.

To get to some solutions, we should at least acknowledge the kind of global anxiety, the “free-floating” kind, that’s been a problem for a lot of us, perhaps exacerbated by our experiences over the last couple of years. And that problem is all too real.

An advisory panel of the Department of Health and Human Services called on providers to institute routine screening for anxiety in light of the stresses we’ve experienced lately, stressors that include inflation and fear of illness and loss of loved ones from Covid-19. And according to a member of the panel, “It’s a crisis in this country. Our only hope is that our recommendations throw a spotlight on the need to create greater access to mental health care — and urgently.”

So let’s acknowledge that kind of anxiety, the kind that calls for professional remedies from the worlds of psychiatry and psychology, but note that it’s different from the kind of situational anxiety that the comments I receive is asking about.

Those comments are directed at the job search and its attendant stress, a situational anxiety, and to help with that situational anxiety, we don’t need to recruit armies of therapists. What one client of mine wanted were ways to cope with the anxiety that arises when you’re in the middle of a job search or on your way to a job interview.

For that kind of anxiety, here are some general suggestions and some specific strategies that can help, first with some that apply to the ongoing stress of the search and then to the very specific stress of coping with an interview.


Happy cat sleeping under blankets

“SELF-CARE” IS NOT JUST A SLOGAN. It’s a valid concern, and taking good care of yourself is one way to keep anxiety under control. So consider a healthy diet and a good night’s sleep fundamental to combatting stress generally. If you can add some regular physical exercise, you’re getting the kind of care your self needs. This is not too obvious to mention because so many of us neglect the obvious solutions.

GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK. And, in that self-care context, nothing will add to your load of stress more than a singular focus on the job search. Yes, the search does need focus, but it’s important to get away from it. All sorts of things can help: yoga, meditation, or just time away from your desk. See a movie. Take a hike, literally. The specifics are less important that the simple chance to get away from what’s stressing you out, no matter what that is.

DON’T BE SO HARD ON YOURSELF. There’s nothing worse – or more anxiety-inducing – than feeling like you’re spinning your wheels, doing a million things to aid your search, and accomplishing nothing. Sometimes, that feeling stems from a sense that the search is all wrapped up in the ultimate goal of getting hired.

Of course, that’s the end result we want, but the big picture view may not really be your friend. Instead of taking that all-or-nothing view, break things into discrete tasks. Acknowledge and give yourself credit for specific steps that you accomplish. Polish your resume and it’s a job well done. Research some companies in your field and that’s progress. Give yourself credit when credit is deserved, and you’ll find yourself less overwhelmed.


BREATHE. This one may sound like a cliché, but it’s only a cliché because it’s so very true. Notice how you’re breathing and take a minute to slow down, take a deep breath, and exhale slowly and deeply. It will calm you, not only on a physical level but by taking your attention away from the stress-inducing moment you’re confronting. Anything, even a simple

Cursive, neon "and breathe" surrounded by leaves

breathing exercise that breaks the stressful obsessing over what’s to come, will help you get past the anxiety.

GET YOUR BODY ON BOARD. Physical tension contributes to and reflects psychological tension, and we all tend to carry that tension in different places in our bodies. It may be that you tense up in your shoulders or in your neck. Wherever that focus is, it’s something you may not be consciously aware of, but it sets up a damaging feedback loop: Your mind is anxious and your body gets tense in response. And then your mind, sensing that physical tension, decides that there’s good reason to be anxious. The cycle needs to be interrupted.

Take some time to investigate your own particular centers of stress, and consciously relax them. It’s a simple physical trick that can break the feedback loop and help you to a calmer place.

PREPARE SO THAT YOU FEEL TRULY READY. The single best way to cut down on interview-day anxiety is to walk in feeling totally prepared. That means doing all the work to research the company and the role.

It means walking in with a good handle on the very good question you’ll ask if given the chance. It also means spending time rehearsing. Practice responding to the questions you’re likely to be asked. The more you do it, the more fluent you’ll become.

Get some feedback on your performance, preferably from someone who knows about interviews and interviewers. Don’t leave things at the mercy of your improvisational skills when you really don’t have to.

DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF…UNLESS THE SMALL STUFF MAKES YOU SWEAT. I’m talking about things like your interview outfit or your hairdo or whatever small, mundane things get under your skin. We know that they’re not important in themselves, but we also know that they can add to your worries.

So: Get that new suit or that haircut or whatever will make you more comfortable. Cross it off the list of things to stress over. It’s akin to the idea of rehearsing for the moment, another way of being – and feeling – totally prepared.

The interview process may never be fun, exactly, but you can make it a lot less painful if your feeling is “I’m ready for this. Bring it on.”

None of this is exactly groundbreaking. You’ve probably heard a lot of it before. But the reason you’ve heard it before is that these simple things have been proven to work for a lot of people.

Give some of these strategies a try. Find out what works for you, and use those tools when you need them. You have nothing to lose but some weight off your shoulders.

If you need an experienced career coach to help you advance to the next level while staying as free as possible from stress, I can help you craft a game plan.


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