Job Hunt and Stress: How It Hurts, How It Helps

In some situations, such as finishing college, job hunting is an exciting adventure. However, looking for work can also be stressful, particularly following a lay-off or during a down economy. In fact, loss of a job is eighth on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, which ranks stress levels of various life events. Employment is crucial not just in creating an income to pay the rent or feed the family, but also in providing a sense of purpose and contribution. In most cases, stress is considered bad, but it can also provide the motivation needed to overcome the challenge of unemployment.

How Stress Hurts the Job Hunt

Stress not only impacts mental health, but physical health as well. People who feel stressed about a job search can experience headaches, high blood pressure, stiffness in the neck and shoulders, upset stomach, nausea, and diarrhea. Further, stress can impact the immune system increasing the risk of illness or making existing illnesses worse. In fact, unemployment increases mortality by 1 percent and death from cardiovascular disease by 5 to 6 percent. The physical ailments related to stress can make it difficult to have the energy to perform job-hunting activities, despite the fact that finding a job would eliminate the physical manifestations of stress.

The psychological impact of stress can be equally as debilitating. Stress can lead one to feel frustrated, angry, and helpless. Studies have shown that unemployment causes people to feel incompetent or lead them to blame outside factors, such as the economy. A 2010 Gallup Poll showed that the longer a person remained unemployed, the greater the worry, sadness, and stress they experienced. The risk of mental health hospital admissions increase 4 percent in people who are unemployed. The psychological impact worsens the more rejection a job seeker faces. Feelings of depression and feelings of hopelessness can cause job hunters to not apply for jobs regularly or seek additional help, such as professional resume services.

How Stress Can Help the Job Hunt

While stress can be paralyzing, some believe it can be motivating as well. The concept of positive stress or "eustress" was pioneered by Hans Selye, an endocrinologist who studied the impact of stress. Since revealing his groundbreaking ideas in the mid-twentieth century, many experts have studied and debated Selye's ideas. Research suggests that moderate levels of stress can be motivating and improve health. The physical and emotional feelings experienced when stressed are signs that action needs to take place, much in the same way that pain triggers the need to take action to avoid getting hurt. Moderate stress provides enough pressure to motivate action, but not so much to feel overwhelmed or incapacitated. For example, job seekers who are facing foreclosure will likely be experiencing too much stress for it have a positive impact. However, job hunters who are not on the verge of financial ruin and can maintain a positive attitude toward their search, can be motivated by the stress involved in looking for a job.

Limiting job hunt stress to moderate levels requires maintaining physical health, keeping expenses down, and using available job search resources. Recommended actions include:

  • Eat well and get plenty of sleep.
  • Review household budget and make cuts to lower expenses.
  • Apply for financial assistance if needed.
  • In the case of a layoff, contact your state's unemployment office to apply for benefits.
  • Contact a local job skills or work source center for help in creating a resume and other job search skills.
  • Attend job fairs.
  • Network with friends and former employers.

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