How to Stay Hopeful During a Job Search

"I can't find a job and I'm depressed." Here are a few things you can do to combat feeling depressed while not having a job.

Along with the widespread fear and uncertainty due to our current crisis, those of us trying to find a job (without much luck) can easily feel discouraged. If you recently lost your job and have already filed for unemployment, you may be struggling with frustration, anger, and even depression as you try looking for a new job in a less-than-ideal economy.

But aside from continuing to search for work and setting reasonable expectations, there are a few things you can start doing to combat feeling depressed about not having a job.

Reaffirm that your job is not your identity

In our country, one of the first things we ask upon meeting someone is, “What do you do for a living?” And while there is nothing wrong with taking pride in the work we do, sometimes this focus on what we do — as opposed to who we are — can be a problem. If we align our self-worth with our work, then when we lose our job and cannot find a new one, we experience a massive blow to our sense of identity and purpose.

We must re-affirm that our identity, worth, and dignity are not dependent on having a job. One way to do this is through journaling. Try noting the ways in which you bring value to your relationships, for example. Write down the names of people who love and care about you and consider why they do — most likely, it’s based on who you are, not what you do for a living.

Writing these things down doesn’t mean you won’t still feel disappointed at times about your job-situation. But reminding yourself of the source of your deeper sense of identity and worth can help diminish those negative emotions. And whenever you need a reminder, you’ll have a written message as a reminder.

Seek nourishing relationships

Regularly communicating with loved ones helps remind us of our value. By spending time with our family or talking with friends over the phone, we are reminded that it’s who we are on a personal level that brings them joy — not our employment status.

Aside from receiving affirmation and love from others, seeking relationships allows us to do the “work” of loving them as well. One of the reasons not having a job can be so difficult is that a job orients our efforts toward a concrete end. When we don’t have those goal-oriented tasks filling up our life, our days feel empty. But we can apply that same motivation we had for our job to coming up with concrete and unique “tasks” that demonstrate our love for others.

Consider spending a few times a week writing a letter or email to someone you suspect is lonely. If you’re artistic, write a song or craft a piece of jewelry for someone. Or you might volunteer to do grocery shopping for an elderly neighbor or help deliver meals to members in your community.

Whether you are volunteering your time in an official capacity or simply trying to love those around you in an unofficial one, committing intentionally to doing “work” for others, out of love, can give you a sense of purpose similar to that of having a job.

Do things you enjoy

Another effective way to take your mind off your so-far unsuccessful job search is to find time to do things you enjoy. While some activities or hobbies are not possible in the midst of our current lockdown, there are still many ways to enjoy yourself and take your mind off of your current unemployment woes.

The benefit of doing things you enjoy is that it can actually make you feel better. Doing fun activities releases endorphins, a natural chemical that makes us feel happier. Plus, engaging in activities that put us in a flow state — those projects or hobbies that we enjoy so much we lose sense of time — can relax us and produce positive physiological changes in our bodies. Sherlock Holmes playing the violin is a good example. The benefit is that these activities nurture a positive mindset that allows us to gain a better perspective.

And if physical activity doesn’t do the trick, take a note out of St. Thomas Aquinas’ book. One of his suggestions for relieving sorrow? Take a bath. While a relaxing stint in the tub may or may not sound enticing to you, the point is to make sure you are regularly doing things you personally find relaxing or enjoyable to help you navigate this difficult season of joblessness.

Put yourself to work in other ways

Again, a major reason we can become depressed about not having a job is that work gives us a sense of purpose and order to our day. Even if we don’t love our job, there is something satisfying about accomplishing a given set of tasks.

So it can be helpful to add other tangible forms of work in your life as well. If you are good with your hands, consider repairing that broken chair or repainting the backyard fence. Maybe now’s the time to finally clean out the garage or accomplish those all-too-necessary to-do’s that have been waiting for you — like reorganizing financial documentation, sifting through clothes to donate, or filing your taxes (if you haven’t already).

While activities like these may not necessarily be enjoyable, the sense of satisfaction and purpose that can accompany doing them, even for only a couple hours each day, can help combat negative feelings caused by lack of success on the job market. If you’re in need of more of a lift, perhaps you’re ready to dive into a passion project that you’ve been harboring for a long time — this is a good time to develop a new lifelong skill. 

The discouragement you may be feeling is only natural. Our whole educational and professional careers are oriented toward a certain level of productivity in the workplace, and when that’s absent, it leaves a big hole. Remember that many companies are simply not hiring, so you’re not alone in your frustration. If you keep a positive outlook, remain focused on others, and use this opportunity to develop other aspects of yourself, this time could bring something good — even if it is a struggle. 

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