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Managing Covid-induced Job Search Anxiety

A strategy for coping with job search anxiety as a result of covid-19

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Thoughtful young businesswoman looking at gap with question mark. Challenge and doubt concept.
Thoughtful young businesswoman looking at gap with question mark. Challenge and doubt concept.

There is no shortage of helpful information for job seekers out there. Yet if you’re newly unemployed as a result of the Covid epidemic, beware of information overload. 

Losing a job is already a challenge, heightened by social-distance anxiety, new norms and family dynamics, can leave you feeling completely overwhelmed.

5 years ago, when I began my job as a career transition coach in Silicon Valley, my boss, a wise and direct woman, had some advice. New to the job, I was working with high-level managers who were laid off when their companies re-organized. Sometimes these clients were short or seemed angry with me for no apparent reason, so I asked my manager how to handle it.   

Elizabeth, she said, “I don’t care what C-Suite they walked out of, they’ve lost their job and they’re scared. They have a mortgage to pay and no next paycheck. Let them know it’s both normal and understandable to be anxious right now. Remind them fear isn’t the same thing as weakness.”

Losing a job is traumatic. Beyond financial security, work meets multiple emotional needs. Being laid off is ranked one of the most difficult experiences people go through in a lifetime.  

And right now it’s a double whammy, because we’re in the middle of an unprecedented and traumatic time.  And the combined effect causes ripples of negativity, creating feelings of overwhelm that are hard to wrangle.

When the questions and self-doubt keep rippling, how can you move your job search forward?

How can any of us find clarity in the midst of all this uncertainty? 

One way is by deciding to manage your attention. Before you roll your eyes, I’m going to ask you to close them (right after you read this). 

Focused Attention Exercise

Remember the last time you walked up a difficult hill or a never-ending flight of stairs.  Take a moment now to picture yourself making that seemingly never-ending climb.

You’ve been climbing these stairs for 20 minutes and you’re already tired.  Now you look up and see how much further you have have to go – so far you can’t even see to the finish. How does that make you feel?

Next turn your gaze down to your feet. Focus on taking one step at a time while turning your attention to the parts of your body that feel strained as you keep climbing.

The climb is just as steep, but now you can pinpoint exactly where strain is coming from and adjust to alleviate it. Maybe your thighs are cramping. So you shift your weight to back further to your glute muscles to offset the strain. Less strained muscles help to downregulate your breathing, delivering more oxygen to your bloodstream. These simple shifts help keep you going.

Continue to tune into your body and keep that focus as you coordinate your pace and your stride and your breath to work with the hard climb, which you can only do with continued attention. Suddenly you feel calmer, it’s easier now, you realize you can do it by maintaining your pace and focus. 

If you have the opportunity to go outside and walk up a steep hill, you can try this exercise in real time!

Now back to the question. How can any of us focus in the midst of a pandemic? 

By moving your attention away from the things you can’t control.

It may feel impossible at first. But I invite you to separate the challenges you’re dealing with right now, your job loss, covid-19, homeschool, or whatever else is on your list and focus on the one you can control. 

The news is out there, it’s looming and uber-hard to ignore.  But rather than toggling back and forth between future worries and present challenges, turn your attention to the here and now.

Daily Mindfulness Practice

Among of the best practices for controlling anxiety are breath work and meditation. It’s hard to quantify the benefits these practices deliver. If you’re new to mediation, it can seem either daunting or time-consuming. The truth is, a short consistent practice of 15 minutes a day is more effective than random long meditation sessions.

If you’re short on time, try getting up earlier and starting your day off with lower cortisol levels and greater focus. It’s not a quick fix, but I invite you to give it 30 days and evaluate your results!

Work on building connections
Just because we are social distancing, says Lori Eckel, a clinical social worker with Legacy Health, doesn’t mean we are disconnecting. Eckel says to stay in conversation through phone calls, video chats or talking to your neighbor at a safe distance.

Dr. Lindsey adds that it is key to stay connected with friends, family and former co-workers. “Those relationships are important,” she says. “They empower us to do what we have to do every day.”

Take it to the next level

It can feel risky to reach out to professional connections you haven’t spoken to in a while. Yet during this time, most people are more receptive than ever to reconnecting. Use LinkedIn to check in to see how former colleagues and associates are holding up in the midst of all the uncertainty. 

Leading with authenticity opens the conversation to naturally shift to one of mutual support. Be prepared to let your connections know you’re in a transition and which role or roles you’re interested in as specifically as possible if asked. The more clear you are, the easier it will be for them to help.

To be sure, these action steps are no instant fix for the situation we’re all facing right now.  If you’ve been hit with the feelings of failure and self-doubt so many of us are experiencing right now.  Whether you’re stresses involve home-schooling, job loss or financial hardships, it’s more important now than ever to be gentle with yourself. 

The best we can do right now is to move forward, one day, one hour, one step at a time.

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