If you’re someone who suffers from anxiety, change can be a stressful thing. When it comes to jobs, change can be especially triggering. Careers impact so many aspects of our lives — and when it’s not clear what the next move should be, it can lead to a lot of stress.
If you’re just entering the workforce, or maybe looking to change careers, the “what-ifs” can drown out the helpful thoughts, leading to more stress in an already challenging time. It can be an endless cycle, where you’re trapped by negative thoughts undermining your self-worth and your confidence in your qualifications. If you’re there now, it’s okay! Just remember:
This is Normal
The truth is, having anxiety about a new job or career change is totally normal. Even people who don’t have an anxiety disorder tend to have anxiety during times of career adjustment. It’s a stressful time — our routines, finances, and social lives all tend to be dependent on our careers, so it makes sense that we would feel a lot of pressure when it comes to something that influences so much of our day-to-day.
There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to job hunting, promotions, and career changes. Nobody particularly enjoys having their future be so up in the air, but for those that have anxiety, it can be challenging to keep cool when faced with the prospect of critique of hard-won experience and qualifications, salary negotiations, and rejections.
Even when we’re acing interviews, receiving positive feedback, and doing great on the surface, self-doubt can begin to creep in and impact even the most capable potential employee. Today, certain factors can contribute to these feelings being even more common than they were in the past, like looming student loans that pile on the pressure to find a great job, an insecure job market, and competitive social media platforms like Linkedin, where qualification puffery runs rampant.
If you’re having job-hunt related anxiety, try to keep all of this in mind. Everyone feels the pressure of a job switch or career pivot, even when they’ve done everything perfectly right — and, it’s worth it to note, perfection isn’t necessary for success.
You Deserve the Job You Want
Don’t let your own thoughts tell you otherwise. Impostor syndrome, the feeling that you’re not equipped for a particular position or that you’re a “fake,” is extremely common, particularly among people who suffer from anxiety. It’s easy to conflate having anxiety with an inability to handle a given position that you might be interested in applying for; don’t let that hold you back.
The truth is, just as anxiety is normal, it’s normal to think you’re not qualified. It’s especially common among women: studies found that women are less likely to apply for positions they’re interested in when they don’t meet all of the qualifications defined by the job posting than men are. The lesson from this study? If your gut tells you to apply, let the hiring manager decide whether or not you’re qualified. Often, the hiring decision can be swayed by things like relevant experience, your network, and creativity when it comes to framing your expertise.
Often, the “qualifications and requirements” section of a job listing are more of a guide than true “requirements.” If you truly feel like you’d be great in a position, even though you might not fit the description outlined in a posting, chances are you would be. Having the confidence to apply despite not meeting all of the requirements is a testament to your ability in itself.
It’s Okay to Make Mistakes
One negative aspect of workplace culture is that we often face the idea that flaws or failure is unacceptable. On the job, we start to fearfully associate mistakes with the idea that we’ll be punished by our superiors for making them. This is troublesome for a variety of reasons, one of the most important ones being that it is highly limiting. If we aren’t free to take risks or make mistakes, we won’t grow. One of the ways we’ve begun to see a shift away from this mentality in recent times is indicated by an evolving outlook on mental illness in the workplace.
We used to chalk up mental illness-related struggles with things like work attendance to “weakness” or an inability to handle the job. Recently, more and more employers have started to treat mental illnesses the way they ought to be treated — as an illness. With that, we’ve found that, with appropriate accommodations, highly-skilled, hard-working employees who also happen to have mental illnesses are able to continue to excel in their positions and go on to do great things for the companies they work for.
There are certainly circumstances where it’s possible that you’ve actually made a really big mistake on the job and may face repercussions for it, but it’s also true that anxiety has a nasty habit of telling us that if we’ve run into a problem, it’s not fixable. It can tell us that having flaws is not acceptable, and that we should try to put up a facade of perfection in the workplace. When it comes time to look for a new job, all of these ideas can tend to immobilize us and put us right back into that cycle of anxiety.
While it’s not possible to speak for all employers, chances are your future employer is just as human as you are, and comes with their own set of flaws — they might even have anxiety as well! Don’t be afraid to talk to your employer, and don’t wait to address issues until it’s too late to fix them. Anxiety has a bad habit of pushing us to repress our problems and making us feel like we’re in it alone, but it’s much more constructive to get out in front of them and admit to small flaws or failures, instead of having to face a really big one as a result of being too nervous to say something.
While the burden of normalizing anxiety shouldn’t fall on people who have it, it is also true that addressing and treating anxiety as an illness, just like any other, does a lot to help others becoming more accepting of it. Eighteen percent of people suffer from anxiety, and while you shouldn’t need to feel any pressure to be “normal”, it is sometimes comforting to know that having anxiety is exactly that. We’re starting to see more of a dialogue open up about mental health in the workplace, which will hopefully lead to more progress when it comes to how we address it. Plus, talking about your anxiety can be therapeutic in itself.
No one with anxiety wants to hear that “everything will be okay.” We can often recognize when anxiety comes from something that normally would cause anyone stress, and when it’s a product of having anxiety disorder, which can be trickier to overcome. However, it can help to know that other people are experiencing anxiety disorder right along with you — maybe even the hiring manager who scheduled your interview or your future supervisor. In fact, you might become a leader in the company yourself!
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Victoria is a writer and recent graduate who lives in the Northwest. She loves strong coffee, consumer psychology, and learning about cryptocurrencies. When she’s not writing, she’s a really bad trail runner.