Unemployed? Use This Trick to Deal With a Tough Job Search

an unemployed man hold a job application

A job searcher holds an employment application. | Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Being unemployed is a drag. Tales of “funemployment” aside, life after a job loss – especially one that comes without any warning – is often rough both financially and emotionally. In the days after you’re let go, you’re likely busy updating your resume, adding contacts on LinkedIn, and sending out cover letters. But after an initial spurt of activity, you may get frustrated if your job search efforts don’t seem to be yielding results.

After a few weeks of unemployment, your resolution to meet up with your old co-workers for coffee turns into a commitment to keeping up with the Kardashians. Your goal of applying for two or three jobs per day suddenly seems too ambitious – now you’re barely applying to two or three jobs per week. And you can’t remember the last time you put on real pants (no, pajamas don’t count) and left the house.

Welcome to the job search doldrums. The longer you’re out of work, the harder it is to stay positive and keep your motivation up. The unemployed are more likely to report being treated for depression than people with full-time jobs, a 2013 Gallup survey found, with the rate of depression increasing the longer someone has been out of a job. Those who’d been unemployed for half a year or more also reported being less happy and were more likely to be socially isolated than people who had jobs or hadn’t been out of work for months.

It’s not clear whether unemployment triggers depression or other psychological problems, or if “unhappy or less positive job seekers are less likely to be able to get jobs in the first place,” according to Gallup. In either case, job seekers who are struggling to keep their spirits up need a way to turn things around. Now, researchers at Ohio State University have pinpointed specific skills that might help depressed job seekers find work.

close-up of a man sitting by himself by the street, feeling depressed

Depressed young man| Source: iStock

Unemployed people who used skills taught as part of cognitive behavioral (CB) therapy for depression were more likely to find a new job, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

“Searching for a job is difficult in any circumstance, but it may be even more difficult for people who are depressed,” Daniel Strunk, an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State and a co-author of the study, said in a statement. “But we found that there are specific skills that can help not only manage the symptoms of depression but also make it more likely that a person will receive a job offer.”

Seventy-five unemployed people participated in the study. Each took two surveys, three months apart, completing a variety of questionnaires designed to measure symptoms of depression and other psychological variables, like brooding and a “negative cognitive style.” They were also asked how often they used cognitive behavioral skills, like rethinking negative thoughts or breaking up overwhelming tasks into smaller chunks.

The more a person relied on cognitive behavioral skills, the greater the likelihood of their depressive symptoms improving in the months between the two surveys. The unemployed people who used CB skills were also more likely to have received a job offer in the intervening months than those who didn’t draw on those coping techniques.

“The people who got jobs in our study were more likely to be putting into practice the skills that we try to teach people in cognitive therapy,” Strunk said. The study didn’t ask whether people had learned their coping skills in therapy or not, but Strunk said most likely came by those skills without additional help or guidance.

Online job searching on tablet

Online job application | Source: iStock

“Some people just naturally catch themselves when they have negative thoughts and refocus on the positive and use other CB skills,” he said. “These are the people who were more likely to find a job.”

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches you how to overcome negative thinking so you can respond more effectively to life’s challenges and stressors. While it’s frequently part of the treatment for conditions like PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression, the techniques practiced during CBT can “help anyone learn how to better manage stressful life situations,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

In the case of the unemployed, relying on CB skills may make it easier to deal with common job search frustrations like hearing, “Thanks, but no thanks,” from a prospective employer. “Rejection is so much a part of the process of job seeking. Using cognitive behavioral skills are an important way one can deal with that,” Strunk said.

The researchers want to conduct more research into the link between CB skills, depression, and job search behaviors. For now, the study results suggest that job seekers, especially those who are depressed, may benefit from either drawing on their natural coping skills or working with a therapist who can help them learn new strategies to manage the stress of being unemployed and find a new job.

“Using cognitive behavioral skills, people can overcome some of the negative thinking that may be holding them back and making it less likely to succeed in their job search,” Strunk said.

Employment status should gain more attention when it comes to mental health…

career fair

Resumes sit in a basket at the Primerica job booth | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In short, your employment status (or lack thereof) can be destructive to your mental health, not just your personal finances. A new study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, all but confirms it. And it’s something that we should take into consideration as our economy continues to evolve.

The study, conducted by Lindsay Richards and Marii Paskov, both researchers at the U.K.’s University of Oxford, examined the impact of social class and psychological well-being in the United Kingdom. Though many of us tend to think, particularly in an age of drastic economic inequality, that our given social class can have a mammoth impact on our mental health and well-being, Richards and Paskov conclude that it has more to do with whether we have a job than if that job makes us rich.

By looking at “well-being gradients” for given social or working classes (managerial, semi-skilled, unskilled, etc.), the researchers found that employment status is often an overlooked part of the equation. Simply having a job is much more important to our psychological well-being and mental health than we’ve previously realized. Well-being and social class have typically been explained through a number of traditional channels, and this new research basically says that there is another that’s been ignored.

Money, spending, budget, rich, wealthy

The Wolf of Wall Street spending some money | Paramount Pictures

At the root of the research is the idea that the more successful and financially secure you are, the happier you’ll be. Happiness, in this case, is measured by psychological well-being. Though there are a lot of twists and tangles that make looking into these types of things difficult (people with psychological issues will find it harder to climb the corporate ladder, for example), this newest study shows that our social status or class may not be as important, psychologically, as we thought.

“Does this mean that class does not matter? Have sociologists been barking up the wrong tree all these years by talking about social class? We shouldn’t be too hasty,” the authors write. “We have seen that social class is a key factor in determining access to the labour market, which has clear implications for psychological health. But the real culprit, as we’ve demonstrated, is employment status.”

That last bit is the important part: Having a job — any job — is extremely important to our mental health and well-being.

Interestingly enough, this is also something that’s been recently tied to divorce rates. Employment status can make or break a marriage, according to Harvard researchers, and that likely has a lot to do with some of the psychological and mental health factors discussed by the Oxford team.

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