Whether you have first-hand experience of unemployment or have supported someone through it, you know the devastating impact that being out of work can have on mental health and well-being. Work offers us a reason to get up every morning, an opportunity to interact with our colleagues, and gives structure to our days. It provides us with a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
If identity is tied to what we do rather than who we are, who do we become when the possibility to work is taken away? Sadly, losing a job often means losing part of ourselves.
Studies have shown that maintaining a high level of mental health and well-being has an impact on your likelihood of finding a job. In a 2018 study conducted by Darren Coppin at the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, ACU, job seekers who participated in well-being interventions – such as workshops to build character strengths and resilience – were more than twice as likely to find a sustainable job over those who didn’t.
It makes sense. Having worked in recruitment for more than 20 years, I tend to prioritize the upbeat candidate over one who is subdued. After all, resilience is a key employability trait.
It bears asking: If mental health and well-being have such a strong impact on finding work, why do candidates focus so much attention on preparing the perfect CV/resume and cover letter? Said another way, what steps can you take right now to ensure that you are mentally fit and prepared for that all-important interview?
My best advice is to maintain an open mindset and cultivate positive emotions. To be clear, “positive emotions” are not reducible to happiness. Beyond bringing a smile to your face, feeling good helps you to perform better, boosts your physical health, combats stress in your body and mind, strengthens your relationships, and even inspires you to be creative and optimistic about the future.
I am not suggesting that you forget about, or repress, your challenges and simply smile your way through them. That would be entirely unrealistic, particularly against the backdrop of a global pandemic. Frankly, it’s unhealthy to pretend that negativity doesn’t exist and isn’t a part of your experience. Your best bet is to keep negativity in check and remain open to positive experiences.
So, what can you do right now?
Structure your day
Dedicate a few hours each morning to your job search. Then, give yourself time in the afternoon to prioritize your well-being by doing things you enjoy.
When we are out of work, we tend to feel uncomfortable, withdraw, and reduce contact with our friends and acquaintances. Although this response is understandable, it’s also counterproductive. Seek out the friends who understand your situation, support you, and try to make time for them regularly.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
The benefits of exercise are immediate – generating positive endorphins that affect your mind, body, mood, and ability to focus. A study by Miyazaki and Lee of Chiba University found that, compared to walks through urban spaces, leisurely forest walks decrease cortisol levels by 12% and will leave you feeling more relaxed and positive.
Keep a gratitude journal
Each evening, reflect on three of the things that went well during the day. Jot them down in your journal, focusing on why you enjoyed them and how you achieved a positive benefit through them. They don’t have to be major successes. Perhaps you saw a magnificent sunset or had a long-overdue chat with a friend. If you don’t want to keep a journal, take a photo that captures each moment instead.
Be kind to yourself and others
Form the intention to be kind to one person each day, even if it is simply interacting with the person who serves you in the supermarket. And be kind to yourself. Often, we are much harsher on ourselves than we are on our friends or family members.
The next time you feel as though you have failed at something, take a step back and reflect on what you would say to a friend if they were in the same situation. Show yourself that same kindness.
As Barbara Fredrickson so aptly suggests in her talk “Positive Emotions Transform Us” LINK, if we increase our daily diet of positive emotions, we will become more resilient and stronger in as little as three months. So, the next time you find yourself looking for a job – in addition to perfecting your CV and cover letter – make sure to prioritize your well-being. Trust me, it will be worth it.