with Job Search Anxiety: Career Stress Management 101
developed a new philosophy… I only dread one day at a time.
– Charlie Brown
Let’s face it. The job search process can be
Imagine the following scenario. You
walk into an interview; there are three people waiting to greet (evaluate) you.
After having sat in the reception area for half an hour your hands are cold and
sweaty, and you are nervous. The interviewers get to know about your sweaty
shake before they get to know about you. You
attempt to ignore this but you can’t help but notice their grimaces. As you
begin to respond to their questions, you notice the clicking sounds emanating
from your mouth, which is as dry as the Mojave Desert. This only serves to make
you more self-conscious and diminishes your level of concentration further.
Must I go on? You know the rest of this story.
Stress and Anxiety Primer
When it is comes to networking, interviewing, and other stressful job search
events, many of us experience at least some of these signs and symptoms. When
faced with significant physical or psychological stress, your body reacts with
what is termed the “fight or flight response.” The response prepares
your body for physical action through sympathetic nervous system arousal and an
increased release of corticoids, which are stress hormones. Virtually all the
systems in your body are affected, including the circulatory, pulmonary, immune,
and nervous systems.
The physical symptoms associated with this state include quickened and shallow
breathing, stomach disturbance, muscle tension and increased pulse rate. The
psychological symptoms that are associated with this stress response include
concentration problems, worry, self-consciousness and loss of a sense of humor.
We tend not to want people to
see us in this state of heightened stress or anxiety. Our
options are to hide in the bathroom at networking events, thereby defeating the
purpose, or apply stress management techniques that can mitigate the effects of
stress. Usually, once the perceived
threat has passed, the fight or flight response becomes inactivated and stress
hormone levels return to normal, a process known as the relaxation response.
But while the threat still looms large, the following stress management
techniques will help.
Your lungs and heart are cleansing machines: with every breath they expel carbon
dioxide and take in oxygen. Breathing is a rhythmic, mostly unconscious
activity, but when placed in psychologically stressful situations people often
begin breathing shallower and faster. This serves to maintain a high state of
arousal and counters any effort at relaxing
an infant breathe. They innately use diaphragmatic breathing or what is commonly
referred to as belly breathing. The diaphragm is a muscle located between the
chest and the abdomen and works in concert with the intercostal muscles to
enlarge the chest cavity and cause air to flow in and out of the lungs. Belly
breathing can be an effective way to counter the body’s stress response
because it induces the relaxation response.
diaphragmatic breathing the idea is to relax your abdomen. As you breathe in,
expand your abdomen outward as the diaphragm pushes down on it from above. When
you breathe out, your abdomen goes in as your diaphragm rises. And so goes the
cycle. When you breathe this way your lungs actually fill with more cleansing air
than just breathing with your chest. It is often helpful to lie down and place
your palm on your stomach in order to monitor your stomach rising and falling
with each breath. Don’t do this in the interview room; it might be
It requires practice, so know that you will probably slip into chest
breathing as you learn this technique and that it may be frustrating at times.
Start by practicing 5 minutes at a time and then gradually increase to 20
minutes. You can use this technique prior to and during stressful events.
Remember that just taking the time to notice your breath can be relaxing
If you have a physical condition please
consult a physician before initiating this exercise.
we steadily, consciously, habitually think we are, that we tend to become. –
John Cowper Powers
Your imagination is an effective stress management tool. Your thoughts and
inner-dialogue help to define how you feel and act. Just as we can negatively,
automatically expect and imagine difficulties and limitations in our lives, we
can also use our thoughts and imagination to create ideas and mental pictures
that are positive and help to yield the outcomes we desire. Visualization is
used in a variety of medical settings, including pain and cancer treatment
centers and has been proven effective in treating many stress-related and
physical illnesses including headache, muscle tension and anxiety disorders. It
is also used by sports teams to increase the performance of their athletes.
Similarly, visualization can be utilized to decrease stress related
symptoms that emanate from the job search process.
There are several types of visualization. One of them is called programmed
visualization. It is quite powerful but also requires practice. Start by
sitting or laying comfortably somewhere you will not be disturbed. Monitor your
body for muscle tension and relax those muscles as much as possible. Be aware of
your breathing during the exercise. You can initially utilize belly breathing to
Let’s use a job interview scenario as an example of how to use programmed
visualization. Create a mental image of the interview, abundant with sight,
sound, smell and feeling. Imagine the interview in detail from beginning to end,
as you would like it to unfold.
Imagine driving to the interview and walking into the building. Use all of your
senses as you picture what the surroundings will be like. Create a mental
picture of yourself meeting the interviewer. Visualize yourself feeling composed
and calm, and your palms being cool and dry. Feel the presence of your sense of
humor and the building of rapport between you and the interviewer. Hear the
questions that the interviewer might ask and give your responses in a crisp and
eloquent manner. See the interviewer respond favorably to you; feel confident
The visualization can take as little as a few minutes or can be more drawn out,
depending on what is comfortable to you. Finish the exercise by making positive
statements regarding the desired outcome. In our example you might say, “The
interview went well and the organization wants me to be their executive
director.” Clearly imagine
yourself in the desired job engaged in the required duties.
Preparation is Key
Use these techniques, but if you are not prepared for an interview they will
only go so far. There are lots of articles and books written that can be
helpful. Be sure to read “Never Let
‘em See You Sweat: Preparing for the Interview” on this site.
Anxiety disorders are common. About one in four people develop one in their
lifetime. If anxiety is a problem for you, consider getting help from a trained
mental health professional, perhaps in the form of talk therapy designed to
address the thoughts, feelings and actions that lead to your anxiety. In
addition, you can discuss with a physician the appropriateness of anxiolytic
(anti-anxiety) medications, which are designed to reduce these problem symptoms.
Dr. James Pann is a licensed psychologist and the President of Counseling & Educational Consulting (CEC), a firm specializing in career psychology and development, psychological assessment and program evaluation . In addition, Dr. Pann serves as adjunct faculty at the University of Miami, and has taught courses in career planning and development as well as research design and statistics. CEC has offices in Miami Beach and Coconut Grove, Florida, and engages in personal, Internet and telephone-based career counseling. He can be found online at www.CareerPsychologist.com .