How Employment Struggles Can Affect Your Mental Health (And What to Do About It)

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Graphic by Gina Hsu

During the COVID-19 pandemic, workers and job seekers across all sectors are experiencing stress and anxiety over finding or maintaining employment. 

Many spring term internships and co-ops have been cancelled, derailing opportunities for many UW students.

UW’s Campus Wellness and Centre for Career Action (CCA) is here to support students through an unconventional term, providing insight into how employment struggles can impact mental health and how to manage stress in a healthy way. 

UW counselor, Dave Logan, describes, “Not finding employment can seriously impact a person’s mental health. Their sense of self, professional identity and, not to mention, the consequences of lost income, are just a few of the many factors that can negatively influence wellness and mental health.” Even a typical job search in a non-pandemic time comes with an expense of mental energy. Jennifer Woodside, Director at CCA, explains, “Job search can be taxing, as it requires proactive outreach, persistence, and the ability to tell a story well – specifically a story about yourself and what you can do to bring value.”  “There is also an element of resilience needed to keep putting forth effort into a process that has delayed (and not guaranteed) returns, in addition to handling rejection,” she adds. 

Positive coping skills are an essential part of sustaining mental health during a job search. “Inefficient, or lack of personal coping skills and healthy stress management practices can cause serious negative impacts on mental health,” Logan says. 

“If the job seekers are feeling unsure about their ability to tackle the whole process, this can take a toll on their self-confidence and feelings of hope, each of which are tied to wellness and mental health,” Woodside adds. 

While this spring term may come with many disruptions affecting mental health, that doesn’t mean it has to be brutally endured. Woodside says, unideal employment conditions can provide an alternate opportunity for professional growth. 

“Even if the job or volunteer opportunities that appear to be available aren’t what you would normally seek out, it’s still possible to identify causes or efforts that you care about or challenges that you’d be proud to help solve,” she says. “If you’re not sure how to begin, check out the values exploration activity housed in UW’s very own CareerHub. Alternatively, book an online ‘career consult’ drop-in at CCA as a first step toward identifying what you care about most when it comes to careers. Or, consider attending a workshop.

In regards to maintaining good mental health during unemployment, Logan advises maintaining your support network and sticking to a routine. 

“Seek out and connect with UW campus resources, community support services, your natural support networks and personal or familial supports. Keep a regular schedule, daily activities and set routine[s]. [Maintain a] fixed sleep schedule, diet or meal times and regular physical activity or fitness. [For example], stay in this time zone, don’t become nocturnal.”

UW Campus Wellness Director, Walter Mittelstadt, reminds students that they are not alone and can always reach out to Campus Wellness, for support. 

“Campus Wellness has adjusted its service model, to accommodate the challenges that students have, during the COVID-19 model. Even while students are off-campus, they have access to mental health support at Counseling and Health Services. 

They are able to call in to request services.” 

For career support, Woodside says, “CCA is here not only to support you in effective job searching tactics, but also to support you in proactively managing the stress and processes of seeking work. All services have been converted to an online format.” 

For financial support, students also have access to the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, as well as UW’s student emergency support fund. 

Looking to the positives, an undesired change of plans this term can have both personal and professional benefits, according to Woodside and Logan. 

“Retaining a positive outlook can be supported by reframing this as a time for learning to enhance your readiness for tackling future challenges and opportunities,” Woodside says. “There are lots of other ways you can use your time to continue building your résumé, including learning new skills, working on projects, or volunteering your time. We’ve developed a list of actions you can take to ‘skill up this spring term’. 

Logan says that additional time can be used for self-reflection and focusing on wellness. “Failure to find work can lead to positive opportunities and learning in other areas. For those who take a study term, [you can] develop other skills. This can be a time for personal reflection, focus on wellness, mental health or other life challenges.” 

In promoting your own mental health, interacting with and helping others can be an effective and enriching experience. 

“Take advantage of the time for engaging in your community by volunteering or participating in community events. Helping others is a great way to feel good about your mental wellness. Take seminars, workshops, and training online for personal enrichment, academic enhancement and professional learning. You can access resource info online from campus or community services,” Logan says. 

Despite the adversities, spring term is what you make of it. “Even if you are off, keep busy, stay healthy, happy and focused on your goals for success,” Logan says.

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