The job search can be a highly stressful moment in time. An overwhelming majority of Americans, 93%, have experienced anxiety about their job interviews, according to a 2020 survey of 2,018 people by background check company JDP. And that's just one step in the process ― there's also submitting your resume and taking any tests a potential employer would need.
"Our brains don't like uncertainty," says Judson Brewer, psychiatrist and chief medical officer at wellness company Sharecare. And the job search process is nothing if not uncertain.
In his book, "Unwinding Anxiety," Brewer outlines three steps for dealing with anxiety ― during the work search or at any other time. For anyone tackling their own anxiety, here they are.
The first step Brewer outlines is to map out your habit loops. These are basically the regular triggers that cause your anxiety. For someone experiencing anxiety during the work search, a habit loop might look like this:
Trigger: Applying for a job
Behavior: Worrying you won't hear back
It could also mean mapping out the habit loops that anxiety triggers, where the resulting behavior could be something like procrastination or eating an entire bowl of chocolate chip cookie batter.
Mapping out habit loops puts you "back in the driver's seat," says Brewer. "A lot of people, their brain is like this dark room and they're just bumbling around bumping into things and skinning up their knees and tripping and falling." But getting to see why they function the way they do "is like flipping on the light switch."
Step two in Brewer's exercises is to start paying more conscious attention to the results of your actions.
Once you've mapped out your habit loops, ask yourself, "What am I getting from this?" he says. Doing this will mean paying close attention to the visceral sensations, emotions and thoughts that come as a result of your behavior.
Say you've noticed applying for jobs is a trigger for your anxiety. You'll likely find the physical and emotional sensations of that anxiety are fairly unpleasant. Or, if you're mapping out a habit loop that begins with anxiety about applying for jobs and ends with procrastinating around that application process, you might find that the physical and emotional repercussions of procrastinating only make the anxiety worse.
By paying close attention to the result of their behavior, people, "can really see that the worry, as an example, isn't helping anything," he says. "It's just making things worse."
The final step Brewer offers to combat anxiety and the habits built around it is to "find a bigger, better offer," he says.
Your brain knows the effects of anxiety on your body and the resulting behavior around it. You've been experiencing those. But if you can offer your brain a more enjoyable experience instead of your go-to behavior, it will remember that experience so you revert to that instead.
Brewer suggests doing mindfulness exercises when that anxiety hits. Instead of making you feel closed off, the curiosity inherent in mindfulness will make you feel open.
If you're trying to apply for a job and you're feeling that nervousness start to build up, find a quiet, comfortable place to sit, stand, or lie down. Focus on the sensations you feel right now. Do you feel tightness? Pressure? Restlessness? Contraction? Where does it show up in your body? What happens when you notice where it shows up? Are you feeling anything else?
Getting curious about what's happening during your habit loops naturally feels better than getting caught up in them, says Brewer.