Everyone faces career uncertainty at some point in life—economic volatility, corporate downsizing, relocation, forced career change, choice career change, et cetera.

All of these situations cause career uncertainty. Career uncertainty ignites stressors—physiological changes that occur when you face uncertainty—such as elevated heart rate, quickening pulse, the release of stress hormones, and loss of sleep.

A part of you knows there are healthier, more productive ways to deal with stress, but it’s hard to rationalize when all you can think about is losing your professional identity.

Left unaddressed, this stress can lead to physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion, combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work. Plainly, you experience burnout.

People experience job burnout for different reasons.

  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics
  • Poor job fit
  • Work-life imbalance
  • Misalignment of values between you and your employer
  • Frequent chaos
  • Job isolation from working remotely

If changes occur in the workplace—having a new supervisor, restructuring, schedule changes, or workload alterations—the lack of control you feel in these situations can also cause job-related stress that can lead to burnout.

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What’s the Cure for Job Burnout?

When career indecision rears its ugly head, coping strategies can help get you through. A coping strategy is simply making a conscious effort to overcome, minimize, or tolerate stress or conflict through action. Solution-focused and emotion-focused are the two main strategies used to cope.

Coping Strategies: Taking Action

Problem-Focused Coping (PFC) involves finding practical ways to deal with stressful situations. It’s about trying to handle the stressor itself as a way of minimizing the stress. Some PFC strategies are:

  • Re-prioritize. Most of us have way too much going on in our lives and struggle to juggle commitments—even without the added stress of work. If you find yourself faced with career-related stress, do yourself (and your family) a favor and re-prioritize your activities. To minimize the strain of overscheduling, decide which commitments are necessary and which ones you can put on hold. This re-prioritization may free up energy needed to cope with your present uncertainty.
  • Re-position. A flexible workplace is becoming more and more common. If your current work environment is the cause of your stress and you have the option, try working from home. At minimum, try to relocate to a more stress-free area. If your career choice is the source of stress, it might be time to reposition yourself in the job market or research options for continuing education or professional development. Bottom line: actively try to remove or work around the stressor as a strategy for coping.
  • Confront. Some people feel much better once they confront the source of their stress, and believe it or not, there are healthy ways to do this. Remove the elephant in the room by trying to rectify the workplace tension with a co-worker or supervisor. Spend uninterrupted time with your partner to brainstorm career-transition options together. Or get yourself a career coach who is trained to help you weather career uncertainty through action. These are examples of confronting the stressor head on.
  • Act. An honest assessment of your strengths can help you decide whether you should consider a job that is less demanding or a job that matches your interests. Take some time to research professionals who currently have a job you’re interested in. Keep your network up-to-date and contribute to conversations happening in your industry. Understanding yourself, your needs, and what you bring to the team and your organization is a great coping strategy (and helps build your confidence as well).

Coping Strategies: Emotional Support

Emotion-focused coping (EFC) encourages a person to change their emotional response to the stressor by reducing negative emotional responses caused by the stressor. Some EFC strategies are:

  • Reflect. It can be unpleasant to face the difficult feelings that come with career uncertainty, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Exercise positive psychology by starting your day off reflecting on one thing that makes you happy. Identify one small thing you can do to boost your feelings caused by uncertainty, such as reaching out to a colleague you haven’t spoken to in a while or reflecting on your past career accomplishments by pulling out your resume.
  • Be kind to yourself. Distract attention from the stressor by taking care of YOU. Studies consistently show that people who take care of themselves by staying in the game. Studies show that people who think of the job hunt as a full-time job tend to get hired much more quickly than those who don’t have that mindset. Staying in the game also involves taking care of yourself—exercising, eating right, and surrounding yourself with positive people. Aside from the many health benefits, these acts are extremely productive in reducing the impact stress can have on your body. It also helps you sleep better, which restores well-being and helps protect your health.
  • Confide in someone. We all need moral support, sympathy, encouragement and understanding from others at some point in our lives. Studies show that people who maintain strong relationships with others, especially through difficult times, handle stress better. Career indecision is an excellent time to call on friends, co-workers, mentors, or family to help you cope with job stress and feelings of burnout. If this isn’t an option, work with a career coach – a trained professional who can help you acknowledge the stressor and find a productive way sort out your career uncertainty. If your company offers an employer assistance program (EAP), this may also be an outlet. Good people have a way of making us impervious to stress.
  • Find a hobby. People tend to minimize the healing benefits of a hobby, but the benefits are very real. Participating in something you enjoy, such as reading, gardening, or building models, helps to keep yourself busy by re-focusing your mind off the stressor. It also brings a level of joy to your life that can help to diffuse that stressor.

To test your own coping skills, take the Coping and Stress Management Skills Test.

Your Coping Strategy Matters

It can be hard to enlist coping strategies when you’re in the trawls of career uncertainty. However, the more you practice good coping strategies, the better your coping strategies become.

When your professional path derails, consider ways to improve your outlook. It is less about the cause of the stress itself and more about how you respond to the stress.

People handle stress differently. One person may immerse themselves in work to avoid dealing with the stress at hand while another person might be rendered paralyzed from stress.

Find healthy methods that will work for you.

Embracing Forced Change

Forced change can have certain benefits. Although it doesn’t seem so at the time, forced change can give you the pause needed to consider new directions. It can help you learn important things about yourself and give you a chance to investigate new career opportunities.

Maybe forced career change leads to starting your own business or recommitting yourself to project you abandoned due to burnout.

Forced change can also help you re-discover enjoyable aspects of your work or recognize co-workers for valuable contributions.

The key to forced change is embracing it. Take short breaks throughout the day. Spend time away from work doing things you enjoy. Build up skills that empower you to manage your career, even in times of uncertainty.

When your sense of control over your destiny increases, negative health consequences related to job insecurity decrease and possibilities are endless.

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For more content and inside tips created specifically for job hunting and professional development, sign up for the Career in Progress career seekers monthly email newsletter.