Job Search Anxiety: Putting Fear into Perspective

In our previous post, we talked a bit about how to deal with the sense of panic that sometimes accompanies our need for a new job or career. Let’s tie into topic by talking a little about something I call “job search anxiety”—that underlying sense of worry that we deal with when we’re between jobs. Think of panic as fear on steroids—that thing that provokes the adrenaline rush, the fight-or-flight instinct we all have. But if panic is a raging fire, anxiety is a slow burn. It’s that unsettled, simmering fear and nagging worry that come from our uncertainty about the future.

Anxiety has a way of dominating our thoughts and presenting itself as a looming threat—to the point that it’s easy to be distracted away from other things we ought to be doing. (Like looking for a job, for instance.) In times like these, it’s helpful to put the anxiety into perspective—to contextualize it, if you will, in relation to the world around you and the other facets of your life. Doing this helps the worry become more manageable so it doesn’t loom quite as large in your view.

The Science and Statistics of Worry

For starters, let’s take a look at a few key facts about our fears and worries, and how they actually play out in real life. Consider the following:

  • Most of our fears never come to pass. Author Don Joseph Goewey points out that statistically speaking, 85 percent of the things we fear never happen. (The percentage of times they happen in the “worst case scenario” is even less.) And even when what we fear does happen, 79 percent of us find we can handle the bad situation better than expected, or that we learned an important lesson from it. Crunching the numbers, that means there’s a 3 percent chance that your worst fears will come to pass in the worst possible way, with no redemptive value. (Does that give you a little perspective?)
  • We worry more about things that are less likely to happen. Fear is irrational; it doesn’t base itself on facts or actual probabilities. For example, most of us have no problem driving or riding in a car, but we might fear getting on an airplane because of all the sensational news reports about plane crashes and fatalities. Yet by the numbers, you’re actually safer in an airplane flying at 500 mph with no nearby traffic than you are driving on the street at 30 mph surrounded by other vehicles. We’ll avoid going to public events for fear of a terrorist attack, but we’ll readily smoke a cigarette known to cause death by lung cancer (ironically, for the purpose of calming our nerves). Do you see the inconsistency?

So…we worry about things that won’t happen, or we worry about the wrong things in general. In short…worry is a waste of time!

So how do we manage worry? Many of the techniques I mentioned about controlling panic will also apply here. The important thing is not to let worry and anxiety stop your momentum, especially when looking for a job. Stop wasting time worrying about what will happen if you don’t find work. Statistically speaking, the odds of finding meaningful employment are very much in your favor just by the act of looking.

That means if you let worry slow you down, you’re actually betting against yourself.