No matter how much work experience you have or how many connections you’ve made, searching for new work is taxing. You’re bound to deal with financial strain, rejection, self-doubt, and discouragement. Self-care may be the last thing on your mind, but it’s an integral factor in the job hunt—and one that gets overlooked far too often.
We spoke with numerous experts on the importance of prioritizing self-care and ways to build a better routine to prevent job search burnout.
Build a sustainable schedule
“Our brains only have so much decision-making power, and challenging tasks like job hunting burn those resources fast, leaving us feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, and exhausted,” says Dr. Nicole Byers, a clinical neuropsychologist at Rocky Mountain Neurosciences.
Rather than applying to jobs all day, every day, build a viable routine that involves more than just submitting applications and job searching. Start with a regular wake-up time. Then consider what you need to make your daily and weekly routine healthy and sustainable.
Build a schedule that you can repeat, week after week, and add both professional and personal tasks to your to-do list. This can be as simple as taking a daily shower, getting eight hours of sleep, going outside at least once, talking to a friend, eating more greens, or reading for 30 minutes.
“Set boundaries with your time,” says Nicole Artz, licensed marriage and family therapist and content writer for Well Beings Counseling, who recommends adding SMART goals to your schedule. Give yourself a goal of applying to five jobs before your lunch break, for example. Just make sure the goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.
You can use SMART goals for your daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. This will help you stay focused, make you feel accomplished, and get you closer to your ultimate goal of obtaining a job.
Take mindful breaks
Burnout can happen to anyone, including job seekers. Not knowing when you’ll get a job can be frustrating and anxiety-inducing, which is why you need to pay close attention to your mental health and learn ways to cope as you confront the unknown.
“You can be self-critical and beat yourself up for any small mistake or you can be supportive and kind to yourself the way you would a friend,” says Kathryn Ely, ALC, NCC, associate licensed counselor at Empower Counseling & Coaching. “If you are kind and compassionate to yourself, you are giving yourself positive reinforcement and will approach interviews feeling confident, which will help you get the job.”
“If you are feeling stressed it is essential to know how to calm, recharge, and care for yourself,” Erin Hendrickson, MAC, LPC, at Evergreen Counseling says. In order to do so, she suggests adding the following coping skills to your tool box and using them when needed:
“Picture self care as a three-legged stool—mind, body and spirit—that must be maintained to keep you energized and confident enough to keep moving forward in your job search,” says Victoria Hepburn, ACC, author, speaker and business transitions coach. “Neglect one of the legs and you feel off-balance, tired, and a bit grumpy. Blocking time for activities that help you [feel] like yourself is not selfish or counterproductive. It helps to keep you at your best on the job and while networking and interviewing.” For easy-to-implement, feel-good activities, Hepburn recommends the following:
Taking breaks (even scheduled ones) is crucial. Because you don’t know when the right job will become available to you, you need to mentally prepare for an ongoing job hunt, which could last days, weeks, months, or years. Stay focused, but remain centered, and add joy to your day. The last thing you want to experience is burnout, which will only make the job hunt and the interview process that much harder.
Read more: 40 Things to Do Before You Retire
Put your basic needs before your job search
As of December 2020, approximately 12.6 million Americans are experiencing unemployment, which should serve as a reminder that you’re not alone in this. You don’t know when you’ll get a job or how, but know that it will eventually happen, and you want your mental health to be at its strongest when that time comes.
“Focus on the positives about yourself and your strengths,” Ely says. “If you are kind and compassionate to yourself, you are giving yourself positive reinforcement and will approach interviews feeling confident, which will help you get the job.”
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been searching, how many applications you’ve sent, or how many Zoom meetings you’ve taken, know that employers want to see you at your best—and your best is only possible if you focus on caring for yourself first.
About our sources
Dr. Nicole Byers is a registered psychologist with specialty training in clinical neuropsychology. She completed her Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Saskatchewan and her predoctoral residency in clinical neuropsychology at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax. She is also an adjunct research professor with the Department of Neurosciences in the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary.
A former attorney, Kathryn Ely, ALC, NCC, became an associate licensed counselor at Empower Counseling & Coaching in mid-life. She is advanced trained in Acceptance Commitment Therapy, a unique model of counseling and coaching based on mindfulness and values that sets you up for complete wellbeing.
Nicole Artz is a licensed marriage and family therapist, author, and content writer for Well Beings Counseling. She’s worked with dozens of therapists, mental health organizations, and nonprofit companies on their writing needs.
Erin Hendrickson, MAC, LPC, of Evergreen Counseling incorporates cognitive behavioral, solution-focused and person-centered therapies to encourage positive change in her clients. Her primary focus is on helping new moms and dads deal with burnout and self-care, but she also loves working with young adults, has experience with individuals recovering from alcohol and substance abuse, and is an LGBTQ+ allied therapist.
Victoria Hepburn, ACC, is a certified business coach, author, podcast host, and speaker who happily shares the tools that transform lives—personally and professionally—in an ever-changing world. Using her award-winning business background, she is able to partner with clients working to break through to the next level of success, however, they define it.