Stress when looking for work

How do you cope with it?

Living with Stress

We are all going to deal with stress at some point in our lives, it’s unavoidable.  The question is how do we deal with it? It’s not something that you can just brush under the carpet and hope will go away.  It’s learning to accept it and find a way to deal with it.

Looking for work is the main stress factor a lot of us have to go through.  *81% of people say they found searching for a new job stressful

But where does this stress come from? And if we can’t avoid it, how can we use it to our advantage?

What is stress? 

The NHS defines stress as: ‘the body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure.’

Too much stress will affect our lives, there is no doubt about that.  From our mental health and physical wellbeing, through to our relationships with family and friends, stress can manifester anywhere

However, it’s completely normal and is something that affects all of us. Furthermore, it can actually motivate us to hit our goals if we learn to use them in the right way.

Stress Tolerance

We all have our own level of ‘stress tolerance’  our capacity to withstand pressure and our ability to function effectively under conditions of stress.

If you are concerned that you don’t have a high-stress tolerance, don’t worry.  There are some practical actions you can undertake to increase your stress tolerance level and learn how to manage stress in a way that works for you.

How to deal with stress when looking for work

  • Stress response – what is yours?

As humans, we have various ways of dealing with stress.   One of which is the stress response (also known as the Fight-or-Flight response).

When we feel threatened, our body starts to provide a response to help.  This stress response can become activated more commonly as a result of psychological stressors rather than physical ones. For example, looking for work.

Threats may include finding a new job as quickly as possible, writing a compelling CV, or performing well at an interview. Think about how your body reacts when you are in these situations. Can you feel your heart pounding? Do you get sweaty palms? Do you feel the tension in your muscles? These are all signs your stress response has been activated.

Acknowledge and notice when this is happening. Remember, this is a completely normal part of being human. Acknowledging it, noticing your triggers, and accepting this, is the first step in harnessing your stress response.

  • Change your way of thinking

One person’s excitement is another person’s pressure.

The next time you notice your stress response and have identified what ‘threat’ has triggered this, instead of perceiving this situation as a threat, try and change the way you think about it, learn to turn the negative into a positive.

We may not be able to control the exact circumstances of the situation but we can control how we respond to it, and how it makes us feel as a result. Where possible try to turn the situation into a positive.  Think of nervous energy as motivation and excitement instead of feeling scared of it, embrace it and make it your own.

  • Don’t waste energy, focus on what you can control

If you’re feeling a sense of anxiety about looking for work, grab a notepad and note down everything that is making you feel anxious.  Writing lists can sometimes help you see the clear picture.


  • Worry – You are worried that you haven’t heard back from many of your applications.
  • Solution – You can contact the recruiter yourself after a few weeks and ask for feedback.  This puts you in control of the situation
  • Worry – You are worried about partaking in a video interview.  This is something you have never done before.
  • Solution – Ask friends to help you with role play.  Find out which app you will use and download it and practice on it so that you don’t have technical difficulties on the day.  Also, ask your recruiter, we are always willing to help our candidates prepare for interviews.

If you are still concerned after writing your lists, set a specific time aside as your “worry time”.  Think about the worries, ask yourself what is the worst thing that can happen? Find a solution and you will see it a lot more clearly.   This way it will not impact your whole day and therefore will put you more into control.

Be kind to yourself

Maintaining your mental health is a crucial defense strategy against negative impacts of stress, such as low mood. Particularly when you’re looking for work.

Try the following to help you aid your mental health actions:

  • Mindfulness practice – it doesn’t have to be full-on yoga, there are apps you can download to help with this.
  • getting quality sleep – it is so important to get the sleep your body needs, try and make the effort to have a bedtime routine.
  • eating well – it seems obvious but the food you eat can really affect your mood.
  • exercising – exercise releases feel-good hormones, this helps you relieve negative symptoms of stress.
  • Taking time to talk to family and friends – you know what they say, it’s good to talk.

Putting things into perspective

Finally, when experiencing intense stress it can be difficult to think straight and stay focused. In these instances, it’s key to gain a sense of perspective to help manage the situation.

It’s important to find your own  ‘go-to’ technique here.

Examples could be:

  • Ask yourself, will this still be as much of a worry in a few weeks?
  • Which part of the process scares you the most? Break it into sections
  • Take time away from your desk, if you are job hunting, don’t sit there all day, take breaks

Whatever technique you choose, finding a sense of perspective will help keep stress levels at bay. Not to mention allow you to focus your positive energy on finding the right role.

Helpful resources 

Here are some resources that could help you deal with stress.

Stress – Every Mind Matters

How to manage your mental health when jobseeking

If you’re feeling overwhelmed right now with your job search or career development, we’re here to help.  Use our candidate page on our website to help,

We also highly recommend visiting the Every Mind Matters site. Every Mind Matters has been created by Public Health England, with tips and advice developed by experts and approved by the NHS.

*Data taken from an online survey of 2,001 adults aged 18-64 in the UK who are either employed (full- or part-time), furloughed, or unemployed. A survey was conducted in January 2021 by Atomik Research on behalf of

If you have any questions or would like any help with your job search, do not hesitate to contact us.  We are always happy to help.