How to Manage Stress and Stay Positive While Unemployed

Adult sitting at table uses computer to apply for jobWhen you find yourself between jobs and under pressure to find a new one as quickly as possible, depression and anxiety are real risks. Attending interview after interview and receiving rejections—or, worse, hearing nothing—can be discouraging, especially when the interviews seemed to go well, and feelings of frustration, anger, and depression can develop. Anxiety can accompany these feelings: What if I mess up this interview? What if I can’t find a job? How will I pay my bills? How will I provide for my family?

These thoughts can be debilitating. They may loop repeatedly, keeping you up at night, affecting your mood, and causing more stress. Thought patterns like these also have the potential to affect productivity and the ability to think clearly, which can have a negative impact on the job-hunting process.

To improve your outlook and ability to think clearly, deeply, and strategically during your job search, try the following tips:

Separate Planning from Doing

When you are anxious about your career prospects, you may find yourself wanting to do something—anything—to get a job. But anxiety can narrow your thinking tremendously. You may find yourself making list after list, plan after plan, but stall before completing these tasks. Separating planning from doing can make it easier to stay productive and focused on realistic goals. Planning the steps you will take in the following days and weeks can be helpful, but carrying out the steps you’ve listed is not only likely to help you feel a sense of achievement, but may pay off in the form of a job.

Write It Down

Set aside a specific time every evening to write down how you will make the best use of the next day. Doing it in the evening is key. If you try to do this in the morning, there is a sense of urgency that compels you to just do something, and this is likely to detract from your focus rather than increase it. Actually put pen to paper so your plan can be by your bedside when you wake up and so you can cross things off when you finish them. Making a plan for the next day at night can also help you relax before bed: you’ll already know what you need to do the next day, and you can take a break from thinking about it.

Exercise Daily

Include at least an hour of exercise in your daily written schedule. Exercise can boost your mood, help relieve stress, and help you sleep. An added benefit of exercise is a change of scene: sitting at home in front of a computer or on the phone can make anyone short-sighted. Movement, fresh air, and activity can help you regain perspective.

Try Strength Training

Consider strength training in addition to daily cardiovascular exercise. Strength training does more than build muscles: it can improve self-confidence, which can be a benefit when trying to sell yourself in the job market. A gym membership isn’t necessary: push-ups, crunches, dips, squats, and calf raises are all great exercises that require no equipment. A mini-workout is also an excellent antidote for moments of paralyzing stress. For moments of extreme anxiety, try spending five or 10 minutes doing super-sets.

Don’t Isolate

An item that should be on every job hunter’s daily schedule is social contact. Social contact might be meeting a friend for lunch or even a phone conversation with a supportive family member. Many people instinctively react to hard times by isolating, but this tendency is often a factor in feelings of depression and anxiety. Resisting the urge to isolate can help combat these feelings and may prevent them from developing or becoming overwhelming.

Find Fun Things to Do That Are Free or Inexpensive

Money being tight can have an impact on your typical social activities, but don’t let that keep you stuck in the house.

Money being tight can have an impact on your typical social activities, but don’t let that keep you stuck in the house. Think of things to do that cost little or nothing, and invite someone you care about to join you. Make plans to take a walk, prepare a meal from scratch, or host a tea or coffee social. Keep an eye out for free things to do. Libraries often have daytime, weekend, and evening activities for children or adults, and many museums have free admission one day a month.

Be There for Others

Being in between jobs doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer—you are still the good friend you were when you had money. If it becomes challenging to believe this and self-doubt or self-pity become overwhelming, think of someone who might like to hear from you and give them a call or send a text. Volunteering is another way to fight isolation, and it has the added benefit of allowing you to give back to the community. Volunteering can also provide valuable networking opportunities.

Keep a Regular Sleep/Wake Schedule

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help you stay productive and will also regulate your mood. Set an alarm Monday through Friday, and go to bed early enough to get a full night’s sleep so you are well-rested and ready to do your best in the morning. When you have a whole day to yourself it can seem like you have all the time in the world, but this time goes by quickly. Having a plan for each day can help you make the most of your working hours and help prevent feelings of self-recrimination at the end of the day. A regulated sleep/wake pattern may reduce the risk of depression or be part of a treatment strategy. Eating and exercising at the same time each day can help, too.

Take Time for Reflection to Solidify Learning

Taking time to reflect can increase your chances of learning from your experiences. At the end of each day, look at your list and cross off the things you’ve accomplished. Try writing down what you feel proud of accomplishing that day. Give yourself credit for the steps you took, big or small, toward re-employment and toward staying focused and healthy. Consider whether there is anything you want to do differently the next day. Did you learn any lessons or discover any changes to make? Put your energy into making these changes, not being hard on yourself for any mistakes, in order to have an even more productive day tomorrow.


  1. Bayer, R. (2009, February 20). Stress management – 11 tips to help you sail through your job search. Retrieved from—11-tips-to-help-you-sail-through-your-job-search.html
  2. Landau, E. (2012, June 15). Unemployment takes tough mental toll. Retrieved from
  3. Warrell, M. (2012, June 12). Bouncing back from job loss: The 7 habits of highly effective job hunters. Retrieved from

© Copyright 2016 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Ruth Hoffman Cooper, MFT

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • adrienne

    July 14th, 2016 at 8:17 AM

    It’s hard when all you are thinking about is how hard it is already to pay the bills and then one of you loses a job and it becomes even more difficult. You want to contribute something to the family but It seems like you can’t ever catch a break.

  • Avay

    July 14th, 2016 at 2:01 PM

    The last time that I was looking for a job I found little classes that I could go to at the library that were free and even if they din’t necessarily interest me they were free and they gave me something to do. Plus I figured the more I could get my name and face out there then the better my chances would be at finding someone who either had a lead on a job or who maybe could even hire me because of that interaction. It took a little longer than I wanted but I finally found something, and I think that just getting up and getting dressed and getting out of the house every day was a part of what made that a possibility for me.

  • toby

    July 15th, 2016 at 7:14 AM

    I go for walks when I can to sort of take a time out from the looking and to try to get focused. It can be a challenge looking and applying all the time, but a necessity. Not a position I ever thought that I Would be in having to look for a new job at this stage of my career, but you know, it is what it is.

  • Amy

    July 15th, 2016 at 10:10 AM

    We were a one income family for two years while my husband looked for a job, and there would be these times when he would become so depressed and get so wrapped up in what he was feeling that I felt like he would forget all about the rest of us.
    He didn’t mean to, but I think that a large part of this came from no longer feeling like he was being a provider and he hated things being like that.

  • Koketso

    June 4th, 2019 at 10:02 AM

    Thank you so much reading this helped a lot

  • tyler

    July 17th, 2016 at 7:59 AM

    There are a ton of little side jobs that you can find online to help generate a little income during slow times. I have even been paid before for doing online surveys, so if you look hard enough there are things out there. It might not pay all the bills but there are times when any little bit helps out.

  • Roland

    July 18th, 2016 at 9:44 AM

    I have been looking for so long with no luck

  • Paige

    July 19th, 2016 at 7:22 AM

    Being unemployed when you really have no desire to be unemployed really is the pits. But you know, there will come a time when we all have to make the most of the cards we have been dealt. Maybe this could give you the chance to really explore all of your job options, what you really want to do in life. Or maybe go back to school? I don’t know, there might be some uncomfortable times but try to make something positive out of it in the end.

  • bryant

    July 19th, 2016 at 2:01 PM

    as difficult as this may sound, being without a job is not always the end of the world. it could give you that chance that you have always wanted to reinvent yourself and try something new

  • Malcolm

    July 23rd, 2016 at 9:17 AM

    Losing my job was probably the most strain that we have ever experienced in my marriage. I went from being the sole breadwinner to having my wife have to go back to work and I just had to take minimum wage jobs just to pay the bills. It can be very hard on the family but on the ego too, when you no longer feel like you can fully provide for the family. We went through a lot of ups and downs at that time.

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