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Dealing with Job-Search Depression Post Graduation

Brad Brenner, Ph.D.

College graduation is a significant life transition. One day, you’re enjoying the structured predictability of college life. The next day, you’re thrust into a new world, building your LinkedIn profile, polishing up your résumé, and starting the search for your dream job. For some graduates, the job search is a joyful, exciting adventure. For other job seekers, though, the job hunt leads not to a dream job, but clinical depression.

Causes of post-graduate job search depression

The job search process in itself can be challenging — ask anyone who’s experienced a job loss and has had to start looking for their next job. But for a recent college graduate, the job hunt is just one of many significant changes and new endeavors. Maybe you’re also looking for a new place to live or cultivating a new group of non-college friends. Perhaps you’ve had to move in with a family member just until you start earning an income or learn for sure if you’ll need to relocate for your new job. From a mental health perspective, the pressures and unknowns of these changes become overwhelming.

For a while, at least, the job search itself may become your full-time job. Studying job boards, filling out online applications, and creating personalized cover letters for each potential employer is time-consuming, repetitive, and demoralizing. Always watching your email for positive replies or waiting for a phone call to schedule an interview can challenge your anxiety levels. As weeks or months pass with no response to your applications and résumé submissions, it can be hard to keep a positive attitude.

When that call or email finally comes, though, and you schedule an interview with a prospective employer, your brain triggers the release of endorphins. Your self-esteem soars, and suddenly, your upbeat mindset is back —until you get a rejection email or letter informing you that you weren’t chosen for the position. With these highs and lows, hopes and disappointments, the job search becomes an emotional roller coaster.

In addition to the blows to your self-esteem that rejection can bring, your emotional health suffers in other ways. You might think your skills and abilities aren’t strong enough for your chosen career, or you pursued the wrong degree altogether. Maybe you feel embarrassed seeing that your fellow graduates are snagging jobs, but you’re still unemployed. Perhaps you feel a loss of control over your destiny, or feel lonely, unloved, or hopeless. All of these symptoms can result in job search depression.

Overcoming employment search depression

If you’re looking for a job in a time of low unemployment rates or post-recession, these negative thoughts might be amplified. You might think that with so few people in the job market, it should be much easier to find a job, so something must be wrong with you if employers aren’t knocking down your door. Career therapist J.T. O’Donnell says you’re mistaken. 

“The truth is, in times of low unemployment, job seekers need to approach the process quite differently,” writes O’Donnell in Inc. Magazine. “It’s actually a highly-competitive time to look for work, because more people seek a new job in good economic times than bad ones. That’s because their confidence is higher. They feel safer changing jobs in a booming economy than a bust one. Thus, you need to know how to stand out in a sea of applicants.”

O’Donnell believes your first step is to start thinking of yourself in a new role — as a “business of one” trying to sell your services to a potential employer. Next, she says, you should adopt a positive mindset and surround yourself with positive people — especially those who could become part of your professional network. In addition to connecting and networking during your period of unemployment, O’Donnell also recommends using your free time to learn and practice the latest techniques for interviews, résumés, cover letters, and LinkedIn profiles.

Improving your emotional health during your job search

Making sure you tend to your physical health during the job hunt is imperative. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and a healthy diet will give you the physical endurance to stay strong in your search for the right job. Mapping out and sticking to a daily schedule that incorporates hobbies and social time as well as professional pursuits, is a great way to re-establish the reaffirming structure you were accustomed to during college. Therapist Cynthia Catchings also advises eating three meals a day at around the same time. “That helps us to stay healthy, but also to prevent emotional eating or eating disorders due to depression or anxiety,” she says.

To avoid depression and anxiety during your job search, you also have to tend to your emotional health. Practice meditation techniques to improve your patience while waiting for the right job to find you and help you better cope with the inevitable rejections or non-responses. Spend time with positive people who will build you up, not negative Nellies who want to knock you down. Understand that you’re not alone in having to endure a prolonged job search. It’s a process that can take time, and you don’t want to settle for just any position.

If you find yourself struggling with anxiety or depression in your post-graduate job search, consider seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor. WithTherapy is one of the best ways to find a mental health professional who is right for you and your particular needs.

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