Coping With the Stress of a Job Search When You’re Newly Sober

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Looking for a job can be stressful for anyone. For those who may be fresh out of rehab for drug and alcohol addictions, the same stresses that every job seeker faces can be amplified by still other stressors unique to early recovery from substance abuse.

For example, financial concerns about not being able to pay the bills and provide for one’s family are common among job seekers. For those in early recovery who may be seeking employment, nagging debts from a past addiction, an accumulation of rehab and hospital bills, or both can further exacerbate existing financial anxieties.

Similarly, the uncertainty that comes with any job search can be paralyzing for someone whose go-to method for coping once involved drugs or alcohol. Newly sober, that person must now contend with the added stress of not being able to self-medicate. In these circumstances, fear of relapse is almost inevitably a source of stress.

Those new to recovery face still other uncertainties in a job search, such as:

– What an employer may/may not know about their addiction history
– How to handle a past drug-or-alcohol-related conviction in an interview or on applications
– Questions about whether they will successfully pass prospective employers’ drug tests

5 Tips for Coping With the Stress of a Job Search in Early Sobriety

Naturally, such stresses can be difficult to manage, if not overwhelming. Here are some coping tips for people in early recovery:

1. Keep Recovery Your Top Priority

It can be easy to allow the stress of a job search to dictate your priorities so that the pressures of the moment — preparing for an interview, sending out resumes, building your LinkedIn profile, etc. — become your ruling focus. The problem with this approach is that it quickly loses sight of the reality that your health is more important than any job and that any success in a job search will be contingent on you staying healthy and sober.

Now, more than ever, you need to be prioritizing your recovery by maintaining a daily, recovery-based lifestyle. Good sleep hygiene, regular exercise, and a nutritious diet are important, as is scheduling quality time with family and friends. If you are receiving rehab aftercare services, such as sessions with a recovery coach, and these are helping you, by all means continue to utilize the support.

If you are in a 12-step group like Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, keep attending those weekly meetings. You may also want to consider increasing your attendance at these groups. In times of greater stress, these weekly opportunities for mutual encouragement and support can prove especially helpful when you’re dealing with fears of relapse and other what-ifs. The sober camaraderie not only reinforces recovery. It can also provide informal opportunities to network with others who may have leads and advice on the job market. Some members of the group may even be working for employers that hire people in recovery.

For more professional success tips, check out the latest issue of Magazine:

2. Breathe (Literally) on a Regular Basis

For those times when you get stuck in your head, a short, mindful timeout can provide a much-needed breather. Just a few minutes of quiet attention to your breath, being mindful as you slowly breathe in and out, can provide grounding, perspective, and even renewed inspiration for the job search. When regularly practiced, this very basic form of mindfulness meditation can also enlarge your sense of what is possible when looking for a job.

3. Consider Individual Therapy for Managing Specific Fears and Issues as They Arise

A trained therapist can often help you identify and reframe negative or self-defeating thoughts and feelings you may not even be aware of as you look for jobs. Similarly, if/when issues arise, a therapist can help you brainstorm your options and possible resolutions.

4. Avoid Catastrophizing and All-or-Nothing Thoughts

Rejection is part and parcel of any job search. It’s ridiculously rare to meet anyone who scores a job offer after just one application. That said, when a prospective employer sends you a rejection note after a third round of interviews, it can be tempting to indulge in worst-case scenarios. Thoughts of “I’ll never get a job now” or “Nobody wants to hire me” can occur as fast as automatic reflexes. Resist them.

Do your best to replace negative thoughts with more realistic and positive ones like: “Just because I didn’t get that job, doesn’t mean I can’t get the next job” or “The fact that I got to the final round of interviews means I’m a competitive candidate — and I learned some lessons that will help me get the next job.”

5. Let Yourself Inspire You

Remind yourself that if you’ve come this far having beaten an addiction, finding a job will be easy in comparison. Successful recovery from drugs and alcohol is a huge achievement; it takes a lot of hard work and grit. If you can manage recovery, you can handle a job search. Keep telling yourself this truth until you get that job you really want.

Janet B. Gerhard is director of public affairs for FHE Health.

By Janet B. Gerhard