Today is World Mental Health Day, so as a job coach I want to share some tips and advice on how to look after your mental health while engaged in a job search.
Looking for a new job can be a highly stressful time. Your financial future may be uncertain, you might be suffering in a current role and desperate to escape, and you may find rejections demoralising. I’ve seen clients throw so much time and effort into applying for jobs that they forget to look after other aspects of their lives. There’s a danger of burnout if you take this approach, not to mention heightened stress for the duration of your search. Everything gets thrown out of balance and you may not be able to present your best self in applications and interviews.
The answer is to take a step back. That doesn’t mean you should stop searching or stop applying, but do look after your work-life balance, and make sure you choose carefully which jobs to spend time and effort chasing. Here are my top tips for taking care of your mental health during a job hunt.
- Don’t panic. Panic can make you throw a huge amount of effort into applying for unsuitable jobs. Pick and choose your targets and remember: you don’t want to go “out of the frying pan into the fire”. Talk to present or former colleagues about what they feel you do or did well: this may give you some valuable pointers as to what sort of roles you should be considering.
- Exercise. It’s important to take breaks from your search, and one of the most valuable things you can do it get plenty of exercise. Mental health charity Mind lists a number of benefits associated with exercise, including better sleep, happier moods due to the release of feel-good hormones and reduced stress, anxiety and intrusive and racing thoughts, thanks to the fact that exercise gives your brain something to focus on.
- Embrace nature. A growing body of scientific evidence shows that spending time in nature has significant mental health benefits, including reducing stress and promoting relaxation. One study, reported in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2012, found that mood and memory were improved by 50-minute walks in a natural environment, while in Japan there is the custom of “forest bathing” – immersing yourself in the forest environment – for mental health and wellbeing. You don’t have to start taking epic hikes if you don’t want to, but time in your garden, on the beach or in a local park can really help.
- Practice gratitude. Research has found that practicing gratitude can improve self-esteem and psychological health. A 2003 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that it also increases mental strength and resilience – which could be useful when coping with the rejections and knock-backs that so often come with a job search. Set aside a few minutes every day to write down or list in your mind all the good things in your life and give thanks for them. This does not need to be seen as a religious or spiritual practice – it’s simply a way of shifting yourself into a more positive mindset.
- Practice mindfulness. Again, this is often seen as a religious or spiritual practice, but it doesn’t need to be. Scientific research has shown that practicing mindfulness can reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, banish negative feelings and reduce anxiety. Here is a 5-minute mindfulness practice recommended by the NHS. You can also find mindfulness practices on apps such as Calm and Headspace.
- Make a plan. Setting out an achievable plan can help you feel in control of your job search. Make lists and tick things off each day – this gives a great sense of satisfaction and achievement even if the job search itself has not yet proven successful.
- Balance your life. In his renowned book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey highlights the importance of what he calls “sharpening the saw” – which means looking after your greatest asset – you – by balancing out the four key areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental and spiritual. This improves your ability to handle life’s challenges.
- Don’t be afraid to seek help. If you are struggling, talk to your friends, trusted colleagues and family, and don’t be afraid to seek expert support from your GP, Health Professional, The Samaritans (www.samaritans.org, call 116 123) or charities such as Mind (www.mind.org.uk) and Youngminds (www.youngminds.org.uk)
There is always help available.