How to reduce job search anxiety: 8 actionable tips

Guest Author 15.04.2024

We’ve all been there: in the middle of reading a description for a dream position or enthusiastically updating our resumes when a sudden surge of fear seizes us – ding dong, job search anxiety is here. 

This gripping sense of dread causes us to click away from our trusty job boards and cease working on the applications we’d originally been enthused about. It also leads us to stare at our ceilings late at night, worrying about a job interview that’s scheduled for the next day. 

In this blog post, we’ll define job search anxiety, identify its warning signs, and provide tips on how to deal with job search anxiety so that your employment search feels manageable, not miserable.

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What is job search anxiety? 

Job search anxiety refers to the sense of dread and discomfort that people feel while trying to land employment. 

A person can experience it at any stage in their job hunt – from scouring job boards to interviewing for a position. In fact, according to a 2020 survey by JDP, 93% of Americans have experienced anxiety related to job interviews alone. 

A few contributors to job search anxiety include: 

  • Uncertainty: Hunting for a job carries a great deal of uncertainty – from wondering if a company is a good fit to worrying if you’ll actually get the job. According to one study, being intolerant of this uncertainty is linked to job-seeking anxiety. 
  • Financial stress: Let’s face it – the need for money is primarily what drives our employment search. After all, bills don’t pay themselves. So, financial needs coupled with the uncertainty of getting paid and consistent work can trigger anxious feelings. 
  • Job competition: A study found that job competition was one cause of job-seeking anxiety among college students. This is no surprise since intense competition can drive applicants to consider whether they have enough work experience.
  • Comparison: In addition to comparing themselves to more experienced applicants, job seekers may also compare themselves to employed friends or former coworkers. This can lead them to put more pressure on themselves to land prestigious, high-paying work. 
  • Perfectionism: The job search process can be nerve-racking for those who agonize over crafting the perfect cover letter or delivering the best elevator pitch in interviews. 
  • Time constraints: The lack or limited amount of time for landing employment can heighten job search anxiety. Employment seekers may imagine the worst-case scenario if they don’t get a job within a certain time frame, especially if money is a concern.
Anxious job seeker looking into computer screen

Why do we experience job search anxiety? 

Before understanding why we go through job search anxiety, it’s helpful to examine the origins and evolution of anxiety itself. 

Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki explains in her book Good Anxiety that the basic level of anxiety is an automatic fear response designed to ensure our survival. She writes that in ancient times, humans saw their fears subside once they determined they were no longer in danger. 

However, as our world evolved into a more socially sophisticated environment, the parts of our brains responsible for reacting to threats didn’t mature at the same rate. Citing Robert Sapolsky’s research on stress, Suzuki added that “our modern-day brains do not automatically discern between a real and an imagined threat; as a result, we often get stuck in anxiety mode.”

This explains why the job-hunting process can be nerve-racking. Our brains respond to the imagined dangers of thinking a recruiter will reject our application or believing a job interviewer secretly despises us as if they were actual, imminent threats. 

And since we can’t readily resolve invented threats like we can real ones, we experience lingering emotional, mental, and physical effects triggered by our automatic fear response. 

Job search anxiety warning signs to look out for 

Job search anxiety can look different to different people, but several job search anxiety warning signs strongly indicate that you could be experiencing stress from your employment search. Here they are:

  • Difficulty concentrating: We all get distracted sometimes. But if endless thoughts of your work situation are disrupting your focus and hindering your ability to get things done, the problem might be bigger than burnout or boredom. 
  • Chronic worry: The inability to control or stop worry can signal anxiety, especially among those experiencing job insecurity. If you find yourself constantly fretting about your job application status or whether you made a good impression on a hiring manager, then the problem is likely more than simple nerves. 
  • Irritability: Are you lashing out at friends and family, especially over small annoyances? That’s another sign that your employment search is taking an emotional toll.  
  • Fitful sleep: Anxiety over your job hunt can lead you to lose sleep. You might toss and turn at night, thinking about how you didn’t send enough job inquiries or suddenly recall a detail you should’ve included on your cover letter. 
  • Panic attacks: Maybe you’ve suffered panic attacks while thinking about not landing a position or failing a job interview. If this is the case, your employment fears have crossed over from momentary worry to something more serious and all-consuming. 
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless: It’s normal to feel overwhelmed while looking for work or temporarily doubt your job prospects. However, feeling that your efforts are all in vain or that the situation is out of your control signifies a more deep-rooted issue. 
  • Procrastination: We’ve all deferred tasks that needed to be done. Sometimes, though, avoidance and frequently putting off something can indicate a greater fear about what might happen if we follow through with an activity (e.g., failure or rejection). 

You can use various coping skills to mitigate these feelings. However, in certain situations, it may be better to talk to a therapist. 

For example, if the aforementioned symptoms worsen, persist, or prevent you from engaging in regular activities, then consider seeking help from a mental health professional.

A woman struggling with job search anxiety

How does anxiety appear in the job search process? 

Anxiety can emerge in several areas of the employment search process. In this section, we’ll examine those areas and describe what job search anxiety looks like for each. 

1. Anxiety from job boards  

With countless job boards to choose from and thousands of listings to sift through, it’s unsurprising that many job seekers experience anxiety at this stage. They might feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of options. For example, someone might scroll through endless job postings and experience decision paralysis. 

Another reason people could experience anxiety is that they begin to doubt their qualifications after reading job descriptions. Even if they meet most of the requirements, they may feel undeserving of the position. 

2. Anxiety from job applications 

Completing applications invites similar feelings of overwhelm because of the time required to satisfy each component. Although filling out background details is simple enough, applicants must tailor their resumes to the position and write impressive cover letters, which can cause feelings of anxiety. 

They may also worry about not hearing back after submitting their application. According to a 2023 survey by Insight Global, unemployed adults said they applied to an average of 30 jobs and only received an average of four responses

3. Anxiety from job interviews

The idea of sitting down with a stranger to discuss your suitability for a role may lead you to break out in a cold sweat. Other physical, interview-induced symptoms of anxiety include trembling, nausea, and shortness of breath, all of which you could experience before, during, or after an interview. 

Following the conversation, you might ruminate over perceived mistakes, wishing you hadn’t stumbled over an answer or had delivered a more detailed response to a question. This can also lead you to engage in negative self-talk. 

4. Anxiety from cold emails 

A cold email is a personalized email sent to someone you don’t have a relationship with. Job-seekers send cold emails to build professional connections, pitch their products or services, and land work. Given the unsolicited nature of cold emailing, job hunters adopting this approach might worry about appearing intrusive or unprofessional. 

If these concerns are especially severe, individuals may avoid checking their inboxes, fearing rejection or silence from the recipient. And even if they do get an encouraging response, they could fail to follow up because of anxiety over future communication and interaction. 

5. Anxiety from networking events 

Networking events pose another challenge for those struggling with job search anxiety. These professional gatherings tend to attract dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of guests. 

Many people may find it terrifying to approach and promote themselves among strangers. As a result, they hover in the background of networking events, fearful of initiating or sustaining conversation with fellow attendees. They might also view other guests as more accomplished or qualified, leading to self-doubt and imposter syndrome.

two women talking outside a building

How to deal with job search anxiety?  

Most people will likely experience the necessity of dealing with job search anxiety at some point in their lives. Actively learning how to overcome job search anxiety will help you navigate numerous stressors in life, be they employment-related or otherwise. Here are 8 actionable tips for reducing job search anxiety:

1. Process your emotions  

Instead of resisting your feelings and potentially worsening them, learn to sit with and understand them. 

As psychotherapist, Dr. Carole Stokes-Brewer explained in an interview with WCPO 9: “Accepting [anxiety], that it’s going to be there and that you can use it for your good, can be better in alleviating than fighting.” 

Be sure to acknowledge your anxious thoughts and feelings – but also work with them. Ask yourself gentle questions that could lead to a solution or a healthier way of thinking. For example, if you’ve submitted a job application and are fretting throughout the waiting period, ask yourself what you need to relieve the tension – it could be a glass of water or a short walk outside. 

A woman meditating outside

2. Practice positive self-talk 

Telling yourself that you’re incapable or unqualified will only intensify your discomfort. Instead, reframe negative thoughts into more encouraging ones. Instead of thinking, “I’m unqualified”, think, “I accept my current abilities and am capable of improving them”. 

Consider reciting other positive self-affirmations, which a study found reduced anxiety and perceived discomfort in open-heart surgery patients. 

Other positive affirmations to reduce job search anxiety include:

  • “A job does not define me” 
  • “I put progress over perfection”
  • “Rejection is redirection” 
  • “I attract aligned opportunities” 
  • “I approach interviews with confidence”

3. Create a routine 

Similar to how you approach exercising, studying, or writing, you should set a schedule for your job-hunting efforts and stick to it. 

First, break your job search into smaller tasks and assign each task to a specific day, otherwise known as day theming. To illustrate – research a job and the company offering it on the first day. The next day, work on tailoring your resume and cover letter to the position. On the third day, apply for the role. 

Make sure to time-block these tasks, too. That way, you’ll do them consistently. 

A man sticking notes on a window

4. Focus on the task, not the outcome

Thinking about the gap between where you are and where you want to be can be disheartening. That’s why you’re better off concentrating on the specific details of an activity. 

When practicing answers to sample job interview questions, don’t think about the potential outcome of the actual interview. Focus on delivering polished practice responses. 

Pay attention to your delivery and whether you’re talking too fast. Doing so will anchor you in the present, redirecting the energy fueling your anxiety to your mock interview preparation. 

5. Celebrate your wins 

Our brains tend to focus on the negative: rejection letters, desolate inboxes, and glaring gaps in our resumes. But this blinds us to the big and small personal victories scattered about. 

Putting forth consistent and honest effort toward securing employment is a win in and of itself. It demonstrates drive, dedication, and courage – all impressive qualities in a job applicant but also admirable traits in an inherently valuable human.

So, give yourself more credit than you think you deserve. Every win is worth celebrating, from meeting your goal of sending 10 personalized cold emails to receiving a dream job offer.

6. Rethink your strategy

If your current strategy is unsuccessful, tweak it for better results. Maybe you’re trying to tackle too many tasks on your to-do list, which causes you to feel overwhelmed. In that case, eliminate a few and focus on the most important ones. If you keep receiving rejections, reach out to a trusted friend, former colleague, or mentor so they can provide feedback on your application. 

Regardless of the option you choose, don’t give up. The setbacks you’re facing are not because of you but because of your approach. Simply amend your system and try again. 

7. Take a break 

As the saying goes, searching for a job is a full-time job. But being consumed with your search will only heighten negative emotions. 

To prevent this, take a 10 to 15-minute break every hour. Rather than consume mindless content online during that time, go outside and sit in nature. Be present and bask in your surroundings, noting sensory details like the stream of sunlight in your hair. 

Other ways to relax include: 

  • Journaling 
  • Meditating 
  • Daydreaming 
  • Power napping
  • Painting 
  • Reading 

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8. Seek support

The job search process can be arduous and emotionally draining. That’s why seeking support is important, especially if you’ve reached a low point. 

Relaying your struggles to a close friend or family member can ease your worries and increase your motivation. You could also consult a career coach, who can help you find the perfect position and properly prepare for it so you have a higher chance of landing the role. 

If none of these options provide relief, it might be better to meet with a therapist, who can suggest coping strategies and help you reframe your thoughts about the job search process. 

A woman on a video call

Ease your job search anxiety with actionable advice 

Nerves are normal when you’re looking for employment. But when those nerves start to consume you and derail your job search, you’ll need actionable and relatable advice to rely on. 

This blog post gives you just that – along with the reassurance that you’re not alone. Plenty of people experience job search anxiety, and many continue to. 

Although you can’t banish that ball of dread completely, you can still alleviate the feeling by following the strategies outlined in this article. So, take it tip by tip, exhale the angst, and continue on your job search journey, knowing that you have the tools needed to work through your anxiety should it ever strike again. 

This is a post by guest author Zeniya Cooley. She is a freelance content writer who covers work, careers, writing, education, and productivity. She has also written about culture for Refinery29, Oxford American, Simon & Schuster’s Off the Shelf blog, and more. Visit her website at and subscribe to her newsletter, The Ziaries.

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