by Julie Watson, former Head Editor, INALJ Pennsylvania
previously published 6/11/13
Soft Skills = Success: 5 Ways to Manage Your Emotions During the Job Hunt
This is the fourth in a series of articles on soft skills.
Job hunting is a stressful time – the effort you put into applications, the uncertainty of not-knowing when/if you’ll hear back from prospective employers, the performance anxiety of preparing for interviews, the worry that you did not present your best self, the disappointment (or anger) you feel when you are not offered a job, and the frustration as you repeat the cycle – all this takes its toll! It may leave you awake at night staring the ceiling, eating massive quantities of cake, or having one too many glasses of wine. Much of what we do is an attempt to manage our moods. Sometimes it’s obvious (like when we eat or drink too much), but normal activities like reading, watching television, playing video games, exercising, or hanging out with family and friends can also become ways in which we mask out-of-control emotions. It’s all too easy to lose ourselves in these activities.
The emotional roller coaster of the job search can severely diminish emotional well-being. The key to maintaining emotional health is balance. The best way to keep balance is keeping emotions in check, but this absolutely does not mean suppressing them with food, entertainment, or other fleeting pleasures. Feelings have significance and value, and without them life would be devoid of true meaning and we’ve got to have them. Without sadness, anger, or fear…there can be no joy, delight, or love. As Daniel Goleman points out in Emotional Intelligence:
“In the calculus of the heart it is the ratio of positive to negative emotions that determines the sense of well-being…It is not that people need to avoid unpleasant feelings to feel content, but rather that stormy feelings not go unchecked, displacing all pleasant moods. People who have strong episodes of anger or depression can still feel a sense of well-being if they have a countervailing set of equally joyous or happy times.”
It may seem like I’m sending you a mixed message – don’t use pleasure to avoid pain, but definitely make time for “happy things” to create balance! Yep, definitely a contradiction. Let me explain. The key is self-awareness. By practicing it, we can begin to understand our emotions and start balancing them instead of masking them. This puts us in the driver’s seat, and we’ll be less prone to emotional outbursts that come with avoidance. Also, we’ll be able to truly enjoy the experience what brings us joy.
It starts with identifying how you feel at any given moment. Not sure how to describe it? Here’s a list of words that describe feelings: http://www.wire.wisc.edu/quizzesnmore/Emotionwords.aspx. Being able to regulate these is a skill that must be practiced. Try any or all or the following techniques:
- Journal about your emotions. Give yourself 15 minutes at the end of the day to reflect upon the events of the day and what feelings came up around them. Once a month is over, objectively read what you wrote and try to identify patterns. Not only does journaling help you become self-aware, but the process of writing itself can be therapeutic.
- Talk about your feelings. Don’t deny or suppress what you’re feeling. Deal with issues directly by confiding in a trusted a friend, advisor, or family member. Social support is essential during difficult times.
- Practice mindfulness. Observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance without judging them or labeling them good or bad. This takes a lot of practice. Set a timer on your watch or phone (there are lots of great apps!) to go off every 30 minutes to an hour. When you hear the alarm, stop what you are doing and take note of how you are feeling.
- Learn your triggers. Ever find yourself upset and you’re not really sure why? You’ve been triggered. Try to identify what your buttons are and who pushes them. The first three techniques can help you immensely with this.
- Reduce the intensity of particularly strong emotions. Once you’ve developed some awareness, it’s pretty easy to recognize when you’re upset. Go outside and enjoy nature, spend time with your pet, perform a repetitive task (knitting, walking, or painting, etc.), think about something that makes you feel positive and/or take deep breaths. Try some of these and figure out what works for you. Different things might work better in different situations.
Remember that feelings are the spice of life, but should be appropriate to the circumstance. Many times we are completely overwhelmed and we don’t even know it. Too-intense emotions that stay with us for too long make us unstable. The problem is not having strong emotions, but it’s that we can’t stop ourselves from acting on them or overwhelmed by them. Practicing self-awareness and emotional regulation to makes us better, more balanced humans (and better job candidates and employees, too).
In the workplace, it’s especially important to practice emotional self-awareness and regulation. Check out this great article on the topic: Managing Your Emotions at Work: Controlling Your Feelings… Before They Control You.