Unemployed? 10 Ways to Fight Depression in Your Job Search

Job loss, unemployment and never-ending job searches can make even the most upbeat people feel depressed. Follow IT professionals' and mental health experts' tried-and-true advice for preventing depression before it derails your job search.

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Tue, March 23, 2010

CIO — Job loss and unemployment hit their victims hard. When people lose their jobs, they also lose a significant component of their identity, along with their daily routines and financial security. Job loss and unemployment upend people's feelings of self-worth, comfort, security and personal control.

"In the current economic environment, job loss is a serious trauma," says Stuart Schneiderman, a former psychoanalyst who's now an executive coach. "People are terrified that they aren't going to get a new job."

[ To find out how unemployment affects people's lives, see IT Careers: Can You Survive Unemployment? ]

An individual who experiences job loss reacts to it the way he'd react to any other major trauma, adds Schneiderman, whether the death of a close family member, a divorce or a car accident: They feel defeated, demoralized, a sense of loss, disoriented, worthless, rejected and scared.

Today's merciless job searches compound people's feelings of fear and worthlessness. The lack of feedback job seekers receive from recruiters and employers—despite the efforts they exert—leads them to doubt their value.

"When an $8-an-hour HR intern doesn't return your e-mails, you start to think: Was I a good programmer? Was I a good strategist? Was I a good operations manager," says Jason Alba, the founder of the JibberJobber career management software and blog, who was unemployed four years ago. "I remember questioning everything, all the things I had brought to the table."

The emotions job seekers experience, while normal in context, can spiral into paralyzing depression. Mental health experts say negative, self-defeating thoughts take over people's minds and govern their behavior. People over-eat or under-eat, sleep too much or too little. When depression sets in, conducting a job search and crawling out of unemployment grows even harder.

"If you're working eight to 10 hours a day [at your job search]...getting bad results, you're not going to be in the right mind frame to send out that next e-mail or make that next call," says Alba.

That's why it's critical for job seekers take measures to prevent it. Unemployed IT executives and mental health experts shared their advice for staving off depression during unemployment and a job search.

1. Maintain a Routine. When you lose your job, you lose a lot of structure in your life. It's easy to sleep late every morning and to put off your job search, but those are some of the most unconstructive behaviors you can indulge in. The extra time in bed can lead to self-pity and self-punishment, says Schneiderman.

Instead, think of your job search as your new job and devote eight hours a day, five days a week to it. Shower and get dressed first thing every morning.

"Maintain as many of your work habits as you can," says Schneiderman. "Keep your life structured and organized. If you let it go, it becomes chaotic and erratic."

2. Exercise. Unemployment is stressful and scary. Exercise relieves stress, and the endorphin rush it creates is a proven mood-booster.

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