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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

Feeling Battered by Unemployment? 5 Ways to Stay Strong

You just can’t take it anymore.

Several months have passed by since you lost your last gig. Dragged down by countless hours of searching, a series of fruitless interviews, and troubling news about the stagnant job market, you’re starting to have nightmares about a scarlet letter “U” (for “unemployable”) being branded across your dusty resume. One rejection letter away from throwing in the towel, you bury your face in your pillow and wonder aloud why no one will give you a chance.

Sound familiar? As someone who’s been there, I know how it feels when you’ve given the job hunt your all and employers just don’t seem to care. Don’t be discouraged, though: Here are a few key steps to help you renew your strength and get back on the right track to finding a position you love.

1. Stick to a Schedule

Just because the 9-to-5 lifestyle isn’t currently your thing, doesn’t mean you can’t pretend that it is. Set your alarm for a reasonable wake-up hour each morning and—as tempting as it is to become one with those comfy PJs—shower and dress yourself in something a bit more formal (jeans?) to trick your brain into thinking that it’s time to get down to business.

And—because I know just how tough it can be to resist Real Housewives reruns and your friends’ latest social media shenanigans—do your best to keep the TV off and your Facebook window minimized. If you’re craving a bit of background noise, try some peaceful music (for me, tuning into Sirius’ classical channel helps to get those creative juices flowing).

Decide on an appropriate start and stop time for the day, jot down a list of goals (e.g., “follow up with three companies” and “send resume to that cool art startup”), and structure your schedule accordingly. Having a to-do list and sticking to it will make you feel like you’re making good progress—and keeping forward momentum and a positive attitude throughout the job hunt is key.

Oh, and for each item you cross off, reward yourself with a well-deserved pat on the back or a short break: You did it! Each little step is getting you closer to your goal.

2. Train Your Mind

OK—so you’ve checked off all of your to-dos for the day. Rather than bang your head on your keyboard and fret over why no one is emailing you back, why not channel all of that nervous energy into learning something new?

In addition to browsing relevant blogs to keep up with the latest news in your industry, consider teaching yourself how to code (Codecademy is a personal fave), taking that fun art class you’ve always meant to, or mastering another language. Whatever your inclination, this acquired skill will keep your mind active and prove to interviewers that sleeping and nibbling on bonbons aren’t the only activities that unemployed you is capable of. Who knows? You might even discover a new career interest in the process.

3. Get out of the House

Speaking as an introvert, the prospect of hiding behind one’s computer screen until the perfect gig appears is admittedly quite fetching. But with so many brilliant job search resources available right at our fingertips, a startling sense of complacency can start to take hold, as can an increased feeling of frustration: “I’ve applied to 20 positions on Craigslist this week—why will no one contact me?”

One solution to this quandary is to leave the laptop behind and take a stab at that pesky 10-letter word so many of us dread: networking. But whether it’s attending a fun industry meet-up, connecting with a contact over a cup of coffee, or volunteering your services for a cause you’re passionate about, it can’t hurt when others are able to put a face to your resume. You never know who you’ll meet who might be hiring, and even if they’re not, they could prove valuable to you later on.

4. Treat Your Body Right

During this trying period, it can be easy to spend the better part of your once jam-packed days sprawled out on the sofa, shoulders slumped over your MacBook as you tirelessly troll the job boards for leads. Before your failing posture gives Quasimodo a run for his money, slip on your sneakers for a dose of much-needed exercise. An invigorating jog around the park or relaxing yoga session can be a welcome escape from the monotony of your search and will also help to revive your spirit. Your body will thank you for the break, and your mind will be recharged and ready for action upon your return.

Emotional eating and drinking are other common vices of the unemployed job seeker. While snacks can be soothing and the occasional glass of wine is divine (me and my unbridled passion for sour gummy worms and Malbec speak from experience), too much sugar and booze do not make for a productive job hunt. Instead, try to sip more H20 and keep healthier munchies like spicy baked chickpeas or Bananarama bars on hand to appease you when the searching stress mounts and your urge to graze strikes.

5. Remember You’re Not Alone

While you don’t want to overburden them with your troubles, don’t forget that your family and friends are there for you when you need them. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone—a soothing call with someone you love and trust can do wonders for your flagging confidence.

In this tough economic climate, also take solace in the fact that there are plenty of others out there just like you who are looking for a shoulder to lean on. Try consulting an online job seekers’ forum for a dose of anonymous support, or perhaps join a group in your city targeted at fellow unemployed folks (a meet-up called “FUNemployment” was once a welcome diversion during my own arduous search).

Now that you’ve gained a new perspective and are ready to show those recruiters what you’ve got, tell us: How long have you been on the prowl for a new job? What are your own tips for staying positive during a difficult hunt?

Photo of stressed job seeker courtesy of Shutterstock.