Updated: Nov 13, 2021
Looking for a job isn’t easy at any time. But for those of us suffering from depression, or other mental health problems, it can be much harder.
Is it the mental health problem that stops us working or the work that creates the mental health problem? Hard to know.
For me it was both. I’d suffered from depression and anxiety since childhood. One of the problems was never feeling good enough. I tried to out-run that by becoming successful in any job. Of course that played against me because my job stress levels were so high I burnt myself out.
It’s the hamster wheel: take a higher-pressure job to prove I was good enough; burn out because I had a high-pressure job.
Although the statistics are high, it’s such a comfort to know we aren’t alone in suffering from mental health issues.
With that in mind, the number one priority in finding a job if you have depression is to put self-care first.
Mindfully Preparing To Find A Job
Before we start looking for a job, we need to think carefully about what kind of jobs we’d like to do.
It can be tricky to think clearly and logically when we’re depressed. We may also be fighting some old negative messages that tell us things like:
No one will give you a job
You haven’t got the right qualifications
You're not worth it
People who suffer from depression tend to go to in their minds. This is called rumination. Rumination is when we repeatedly think about feelings, problems and difficulties.
I like to think of it as ‘mind racing’ simply because it’s very hard to stop it racing around like a car on a racetrack; it is a way our psyche maintains depression. Mind racing happens when we think about the same thing over and over again and about the same situations or circumstances.
So, if our depression has got a particularly bad hold on us, we may become fixated on how we’re NOT going to get a job very easily. We can often become very stuck.
With this in mind, here’s one way of slowing down the mind racing before you venture on the job seeking.
How To Be Mindful
Science is proving[ii] how mindfulness can helps us to feel a little bit better about ourselves.
The very logical reason for why mindfulness can help to pull us out of depression is that when we feel depressed, our instincts want us to either ignore the depression or ‘think’ our way out of it. In trying to think our way out of the depression we end of going over and over the past or obsessing about the future, all in an effort to take us away from the depression.
Of course, neither of these tactics works so we end up feeling even more stuck and then beat ourselves up for failing to find a solution.
As the inner-talk heats up, we become preoccupied with the battle we’ve got inside our heads and we lose touch with the reality of our world, the people that surround us and the help that’s available. We begin to feel hopeless because while the depression is killing us. We can’t see a way out of it and the despair begins to set in.
Mindfulness can break this cycle by helping us to take a completely new approach. It’s a way of helping stop our minds to obsess about the past and the future. The real value is being able to step out of the negative reaction we're have when we look for work and do something different.
By practicing mindfulness on a regular basis, we get control over the racing mind, stop focusing on the regrets of the past and stop worrying about the future.
There are many mindfulness meditations available and I would recommend trying something out before applying for jobs to give you some space to pause and take a breath. Your creative mind will come back and good ideas will start to flow.
List What You Need From A Job
To help clarify our goals, it can be beneficial to have a brainstorm. List out all the things you need, emotionally and practically, from a job.
Here are some questions to think about:
What does the job involve? – if you want to work in a office,
then what kind of office?
Where is the job? – do you mind travelling or would you
prefer to be local?
What industry suits you? What work do you enjoy? Where do
your strengths lie?
What do you NOT want? What kinds of tasks, people or situations are difficult for you?
Colleagues – would you prefer to work by yourself or in a team? Can you cope with big open-plan offices, or would we prefer something smaller?
Hours –full-time or part-time? Do you want to work 9-5 or flexibly? Does your medication interfere with starting work early?
Finances – how much do you need to cover your outgoings? Will the hours worked affect any benefits you receive?
Family life – how will having a job work around your family? Do you need to be finished by a certain time to pick up children?
Location – is transport an issue? Do you want to be close to work to walk or cycle?
Values – are you wanting to work for a certain type of organization like a non-profit or in a particular type of role like a supporting role? Do you want an employer to be disability positive?
These are just a few ideas that to give you something to start from. It’s useful to know what our perfect job situation might look like.
Applying For Jobs For People With Depression
Searching for jobs can seem very lonely because it’s as if we have to constantly prove ourselves to others and tell them how amazing we are even when we think nothing is further from the truth.
And it’s disheartening when we are rejected.
Applying for lots of jobs at once can create anxiety. Everything is up in the air and it’s hard to stay organized.
Having a list of all the jobs you’ve applied for as well as bookmarking job descriptions, noting which ones you want to apply for as well as keeping an eye on interview dates can help foster a sense of calm.
Always prepare for an interview the day before including getting your clothes ready, making sure you have food if you need to travel and getting an early night. All in a bid to arrive calm and fresh.
YES, IT’S SCARY!!!!!
But that’s OK because we all find applying for jobs and interviews scary - whether or not we’re depressed.
If we are depressed however, we may find our self-doubt and panic come into play. Self-talk is a brilliant tool to help us through this part of the job-hunting, particularly when we’re attending interviews.
If we’re depressed, our self-talk is usually negative and can trigger us into a shame spiral.
Shame spirals are based on old beliefs we have about the world and ourselves. These beliefs
were fostered way back when and they play like recordings in our head.
So, before attending an interview, here’s a quick exercise to stop those shaming thoughts from sabotaging your chances of success.
Stopping Shaming Thoughts
We can learn to interrupt shaming thought with a sharp command to stop and putting a new thought that’s kinder and more self-affirming.
Here’s three steps to achieve this.
Firstly, pause for a moment and write down five of your most shaming thoughts. These maybe something like:
No one will give you a job
You haven’t got the right qualifications
You're not worth it
Try to find thoughts that come up over and over again and rank the order on the basis of how disturbing and shaming they are to you. Start with the least shaming and work up the list.
Stopping shaming thoughts requires a real commitment to be constantly alert. You can't wish a shame thought away; you have to drive it out. You have to concentrate on your shaming thought and then - quite suddenly – shut it down and empty your mind.
2. IMAGINE THE THOUGHT
Close your eyes and create the situation in which your obsessive thought is most likely to occur. Visualize that situation.
Now follow the thoughts you had and immerse yourself in the self-talk until you start to feel the shame. This is good because if you can voluntarily intensify the negative feelings, you can willingly reduce it.
Next, bring in an interrupting technique. Make it startling. I like to use the word STOP!!
Prepare by making a 1-minute recording, which goes like this: silence for 30 seconds - after 30 seconds shout STOP!! – then a further 30 seconds silence.
This will to shock you out of the shameful feelings.
Now Do This:
Switch on the recording and immerse yourself in the negative talk and then the shame.
(Immersing in the shame is good because it you can voluntarily intensify the shameful feelings, you can voluntarily reduce them.)
When you hear yourself shouting STOP!! empty your mind. Think of nothing for 30 seconds.
Do this over and over again and notice how long your mind is free of the negative talk. Try it again until you are free for a full 30 seconds. Remember your thoughts will return but practice makes perfect.
Keep doing this over and over and when you are ready and hear STOP!! jump up, snap your fingers, slap a surface, pretend you’re a traffic cop, hold your hand up and shout STOP!!
Practice until you can stop the thought with a whispered STOP!!
Use It At The Interview Like This:
As you're walking into the interview, whisper STOP!! in your head just as the obsessive thought is entering your mind. Simply cut it off the second it begins and STOP!! the shame before it starts.
YOU DIDN’T GET THE JOB
Rejection is a part of everybody’s job hunt. Few of us get every job we apply for.
But coping with rejection is harder if you're depressed. That’s especially true when you suffer from low esteem.
When the negative self-talk starts up, you can use the same ‘Stopping Shaming Thoughts’ technique to help you recover from disappointment.
YOU DID GET THE JOB
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