Skip to content

How to Practice Self-Care During the Dreaded Job Hunt

It can be brutal out there. Here's how to take care of your mental health and prioritize what's important while you're trying to find a new role.

Words by Nikki Anderson-Stanier, Visuals by Allison Corr

I'm not going to sugarcoat it.

Whether you choose to quit or get laid off, looking for a job is incredibly difficult. In fact, it's a full-time job just looking for a job. Unfortunately, you can go so far down the rabbit hole while job hunting. And that rabbit hole can feel never-ending.

It's exhausting. It's scary. And it can be incredibly lonesome.

My own challenges with job hunting

There were two times in particular when I was in this situation.

The first was when I decided to leave a company before I had a job lined up. I was at my wit's end with the organization. Every single day felt like it lasted forever, and I was miserable. Nothing I did was right, everything I said got an eye roll, and someone even laughed at one of my presentations.

I decided I needed out—and to quit without even speaking to another company. It took me a few months in which I dabbled in consultancy before I got my next full-time role. Over those few months, I ripped myself apart, wondering why I couldn't make it work at that crappy company.

I thought I was pathetic for quitting and being irresponsible while living in a city that asked for a lot in rent. The words "How could you?!" echoed endlessly through my mind.

The other situation was when I was laid off. If I thought quitting without having a backup plan was terrible, but this was about a thousand times worse. I loved the company I worked for and thought they loved me back.

I woke up, went to work, was there for about an hour, and then they separated us—the ones who would stay and the ones who were cut—and laid off half the team.

It was a slap in the face that I couldn't even begin to imagine or forecast, and I was downright devastated. It was also right before Thanksgiving, so I knew I had little hope of finding a job before the new year. I was right. I didn't secure a new job until February of the following year, about four months after being laid off.

Either way, job hunting can be incredibly challenging, even if you have a job while job hunting.

However, I have learned there are some things you can do to mitigate the stress of it. While it doesn't guarantee you a job or that everything will be easy, there are a few ways you can exercise self-care while job hunting. This will help you show up as your best self through the process without feeling quite as overwhelmed and exhausted.

How to care for yourself during a job hunt

You can tweak your resume to perfection, practice every interview question under the sun, know every answer to every whiteboard challenge, and interview daily—but that won't matter if you are utterly exhausted and overly anxious.

I was there. I dove so far into the job hunt search that I was absolutely shattered after a few weeks (well, a few days, if I am honest). After those weeks, I burned out so much that I had to take a break from my job hunt, leaving me in even more despair.

I knew I couldn't keep this up, and I was actually terrified now of getting a job and being too tired even to start. So I took a huge step back, knowing I had to practice better self-care techniques to show up as my best self.

I remembered that there was more to life than work and that I was more than a job. Did this erase all my stress? Absolutely not. But it allowed me to experience life differently, reminding me I could job hunt while doing other things I loved.

✔ Practice multi-dimensionality

I'm not sure about you, but I can get wrapped up in a job. Sometimes it's unintentional, and sometimes I’m overworked. Either way, my life can become more about my career than anything else. I'll work late, come in early, and think and talk about work a lot.

It can become all-consuming. Especially when you’re stressed or not enjoying your work.

Being laid off gave me a chance to practice multi-dimensionality again. I picked up things I used to do but was too busy for when I had work.

I started meditating again (and found a meditation center with cheap classes on Wednesday afternoons). I picked up my fiction writing, went to as many free or cheap improv shows as possible, and started hiking and climbing again.

I remembered that there was more to life than work and that I was more than a job. Did this erase all my stress? Absolutely not. But it allowed me to experience life differently, reminding me I could job hunt while doing other things I loved.

✔ Set realistic goals (and boundaries)

At first, I was scouring the internet, applying for 10-20 jobs daily, attending seven or more networking events a week, and connecting with as many people as possible. I was busier than I was at work.

I eventually scaled back and started setting more realistic goals and boundaries. For example, I was no longer going to check LinkedIn 87,402 times a day, and I was going to attend only two networking events a week.

I also curbed my job application frenzy. I applied for everything under the sun when I first got into user research. It took me over 70 applications to get my first role. It felt the same when I got laid off. I applied to everything I saw and then more.

Instead, I decided to apply to one job a day (eventually, it got to one position every other day), and I would put a few hours into that one application. It had to be one I thought was reasonable.

I did this because, the first time I was laid off, I applied to every job and—out of sheer desperation—took a job that was a horrible fit and led to many issues.

Was I still desperate and terrified? Absolutely. But I gave myself the space to properly apply for roles, giving me a better chance of standing out.

✔ Try to embrace the freedom

In a way, time is freedom. And you tend to have more time when job hunting without a current job. So after a while, I embraced the time I would usually be stuck in an office to do some chores I typically had to squeeze in on the weekend.

I went to Trader Joe’s to grocery shop at 11 am on Tuesdays because it was super quiet and recently restocked. I saw a movie in the middle of the day and had almost the entire cinema to myself. I went to the gym at 10 am when it was empty.

I did my best to give myself the freedom to do what I needed—activities I never would have been able to do if I had been working. Sometimes it helped put a smile on my face.

I wanted to wallow. And I finally let myself do it after I burned out from my initial application frenzy. Giving myself a chance to grieve also allowed me to process what had happened in a way that I was ignoring before.

✔ Don’t force yourself into fake positivity

I tried to grin and bear it for a while. "I'm fine" or "I'm getting there" were my most used phrases after I got laid off. I would smile and nod while people told me how their friend's friend once got laid off and found a better opportunity.

Totally! That's what I wanted. And I was happy for the friend of a friend, but in my current state, I didn't really want to hear about it.

Feeling grief, anger, confusion, loss, or anything under the sun is okay. I woke up one day feeling relieved. My emotions were confused because it was a generally uncertain and unpredictable time.

I wanted to wallow. And I finally let myself do it after I burned out from my initial application frenzy. For a week, I did nothing. I watched trashy TV and movies, didn't get out of my sweatpants, ignored my gym membership, ate all the leftover holiday candy, and felt bad for myself.

Giving myself a chance to grieve also allowed me to process what had happened in a way that I was ignoring before. I had another few dips (although it was mostly only a few days of self-pity rather than a week) during my job-hunting process, and I just let it happen.

Then, once I was ready and started setting and hitting some of my goals, I celebrated my wins and the work I was doing.

Instead of updating half of my resume and saying, "I can't believe you just updated half, you are so lazy, no wonder you aren't getting a job," I shifted my mindset to be kinder and told myself that I did a good job for the work I put in. This shift helped me immensely in the future by shifting away from negative self-talk and impostor syndrome.

✔ Take time to disconnect

Reading about other people's lay-offs or successes had me all over the place when I was job-hunting. I would either feel like I would never get a job if everyone else was getting laid off or become resentful at those (seemingly) having the career of their life.

Every email that came through was heart-pounding because it could be the next step to an interview or a rejection. Usually, it was nothing. I obsessively checked my LinkedIn messages for new leads, refreshing an empty screen.

It was also exhausting to respond to messages from friends or family asking me how I was and how the job search was going.

At one point, before I nearly threw my phone out the window to a drop that it wouldn't have lived through (and I couldn't have afforded another!), I decided to take disconnect days. These days, I intentionally set hours to disconnect from my phone completely. Instead, I took walks, read, did some hobbies, watched TV without distractions, or napped.

After being tied to my phone for so long, it was a relief. It is also a practice I did my best to keep with me when I started working again, although it was only on evenings and weekends.

✔ Get support

Losing a job is a lonesome experience, so try to find your support system. Whether this is friends, family, other people who were laid off—or a community—it doesn't matter. When I went through this with my other colleagues, we had a bi-weekly meet-up to hang out.

I also explicitly told my friends and family that I might disappear for a while, and if I did, I asked them to check up on me because I can isolate myself during prolonged stress. Having them around to talk to and ensure I was getting my daily dose of human was extremely helpful.

These are all things that helped to mitigate the anxiety I was feeling during my different job-hunting experiences. I understand that my situation could be very different from someone else's, so please choose the things you think would work best for you.

If you’re reading this while in a similar situation, I’m sending you all the good vibes and reminding you of something I wrote on a sticky note on my computer: This too shall pass.

Other resources that may help in your journey...

Nikki Anderson-Stanier is the founder of User Research Academy and a qualitative researcher with 9 years in the field. She loves solving human problems and petting all the dogs. 

To get even more UXR nuggets, check out her user research membershipfollow her on LinkedIn, or subscribe to her Substack.

Subscribe To People Nerds

A weekly roundup of interviews, pro tips and original research designed for people who are interested in people

The Latest