Job search and depression need not be debilitating – Twin Cities

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Amy Lindgren

Have you ever looked for work while underwater? I’m guessing not. But you may have felt that way if you were experiencing depression while job searching.

A client recently described the challenge of managing both situations at once, for which I’m grateful. When you’re not currently feeling depressed, it’s easy to forget that others are. No matter how well turned-out someone might be for a meeting, or how responsive to an email, that’s not necessarily an indication of how they’re feeling.

As a reminder, some of the more common signs that you may be depressed include changes in sleep patterns or appetite, isolating yourself, not enjoying favorite activities, feeling lethargic, or feeling persistently sad.

If you’ve had this experience, or if you’re having it now, you might be frustrated by others who don’t seem to understand why you’re “not getting more done” or “not moving forward” or however else it’s not-so-gently phrased.

Rather than blame the messenger (even when the message is given awkwardly), it makes sense to take that question literally: Why indeed are you not getting more done? If the answer is “Because I’m too depressed,” maybe it’s time to work on that.

Easier said than done? Probably. But not trying isn’t the answer either, so you’re going to have to jump in somewhere. Otherwise, you risk extending your job search, which could increase your symptoms.

Not to scare you, but in a Gallup poll from 2013, researchers found that the incidence of depression was doubled for individuals in the general population without a job (12.4%) as compared to those with full-time work (5.6%). Not surprisingly, the study found that the percentages increased the longer a person had been unemployed.

So how to end the cycle? As a starting point, ask yourself: Do you have a history or diagnosis of depression, or is it something that started with the job search? While “job search depression” isn’t a diagnosis of its own, it’s certainly common. The process can be challenging, demoralizing and even humiliating and if it goes on and on, it can seem hopeless and pointless. That’s a perfect breeding ground for feeling depressed.

If you’ve had a history of clinical depression, you could be feeling a double whammy at this point. On the plus side, you may also have learned ways to cope with your depression in the past.

The following list of tips and steps isn’t in priority order — because each person’s situation is different — but some or all of these could be a good starting point.

• Normalize the unemployment or job search experience. It may be unique in your life, but it happens to nearly everyone. It’s a part of life and nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about.

• Don’t dwell on things. If you made a mistake that put you in this position, that’s history. If someone else caused your problems, that’s history too. Now is the moment you need to manage, along with plans for the future.

• Don’t personalize rejection. In nearly every case, employers are turning down “the candidate,” not you. They don’t know you, so they’re not rejecting you. They’re choosing someone else and eventually you’ll be the one chosen instead of others who are being turned down. It’s just how it works.

• Put yourself on a schedule. Even if you only job search a few minutes a day, make it the same time and place if possible. Make a routine so you can compartmentalize the task rather than letting it envelop the whole day.

• Include self-care in your routine. A walk, a conversation with a friend, meditation — pretty much anything you can do on a daily basis will help. Extra points for getting out of your house or apartment, even if it means phoning your friend from the sidewalk or a coffee shop.

• Use your tools. If you’ve used therapy or medication in the past, now is the time to revisit those tools. If you haven’t yet tried therapy, why not give it a go? If cost or scheduling are barriers, even a free hotline conversation could help.

• Stay busy. Having at least two or three activities planned for each day will reduce the opportunity for binging on videos or gaming.

• Focus on activities that build self-esteem. Hobbies, volunteering, time spent with a mentor, self-help podcasts and books … you deserve outlets that lift you up, regardless of your employment status.

These tips represent starting points, in terms of managing the emotions and logistics of this situation. Next week’s column will focus on getting unstuck in the job search itself.

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