How Young People can Reduce Stress While Job Hunting Post Pandemic

women sitting waiting to be interviewed

Verywell / Bailey Mariner

Key Takeaways

  • Teens and young adults are facing increased stress when it comes to entering the workforce
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has removed some options for entry-level jobs while increasing virtual availability
  • Tools like self-care and self-soothing can mitigate stress-related job hunting anxiety

The school year is coming to a close and that means the beginning of summer job and internship season for teens and college students.

There's always pressure in the job hunting and application process, but this year is shaping up to be particularly stressful following two years in a pandemic where opportunities were scarce and the thought of putting yourself out there is more daunting than ever.

Those who support the mental health of teens and young adults are also impacted by these job hunting stressors, especially as the COVID panic wanes all too slowly.

Anxiety Often at the Root of the Issue

Dr. Courtney Conley, LCPC, works with adolescents in her Maryland-based practice and is the holder of a doctorate in counselor education. She says that the challenges of finding jobs early in your life, particularly for those who are still students, is often rooted in the anxiety of the unknown and the pressure young people put on themselves and their peers.

“I think part of the anxiousness comes from this idea among our young people that there's one right path and [that] if they don't somehow get on it they're just going to be screwed up forever.”

Conley attributes part of this anxiety to social media—where other people may be posting the most optimistic view of their lives. She says that the most important thing for her as a practitioner and a former school counselor is to support her clients and “validate their feelings” that come with feeling left out or let down if they’re not immediately successful in finding employment

“It's okay to be disappointed when you had a thought, or idea, or you felt like this was a great opportunity and it's not panning out.”

Alyssa Mairanz, LMHC, CDBT agrees and says that part of the challenge of a transition such as getting into the workforce, especially for those who are not yet adults, is that they’re sitting in a middle ground when it comes to expectations. 

“For teens, specifically, I think they're in this limbo of starting to assert independence, but also still being children. And that dynamic can be very complicated, because there's conflicting responsibilities between those.”

Dr. Courtney Conley, LCPC

I think part of the anxiousness comes from this idea among our young people that there's one right path and [that] if they don't somehow get on it they're just going to be screwed up forever.

— Dr. Courtney Conley, LCPC

Cassandra Fallon, LMFT, says that those conflicting responsibilities can be even more of a challenge for the at-risk youth she's worked with over her career, many of whom don't have the stability that others with more supports have. That lack of consistency, she says, can cause conflict when they enter the workforce for the first time.

"They often have to learn the hard way. You will see kiddos going through that, go through a lot more jobs at first, learning... [that] an employer is not going to let you talk back to them and keep your job."

Fallon says that these challenges are compounded because many at-risk kids haven't been provided the emotional regulation skills to be able to make their workplace work for them.

"They're not going to be happy. And they're not going to know how to make themselves happy or what processes to go through to see change in the way they need for their job."

COVID-19 Complicating Job Market Leading to Increased Stress

The pandemic has complicated an aspect of this, with the lower wage jobs that youth traditionally start their careers with, in restaurants and the like, being disproportionately affected by COVID. Mairanz says that this affects teens and young adults for two reasons: a job can be hard to find (especially as many students are looking for seasonal work), plus there is little to no knowledge of what responsibilities await them in these roles.

“For teens, a lot of times, this could be their first job ever. And so, when you've never worked, that's a really scary thing. Because, one, it's your first introduction to adulthood and responsibility; and two, you really don't know what to expect," says Mairanz.

While students' mental health has been adversely affected since the early days of the pandemic, according to research published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research, Mairanz, who runs a NY-based practice focusing on teens and young adults, draws a slight distinction between the two groups. For her, the older a client gets the more balancing the workload between employment and school becomes a larger concern. According to 2018 data published by the National Center for Education Statistics, 43% of all full-time post-secondary students—along with more than 4 in 5 part-time students—are employed

Alyssa Mairanz, LMHC, CDBT

A lot of times people are trying to balance everything or are very tunnel visioned on a task. Like, people say, ‘Applying for a job as a full-time job,’ right? But you have to make sure that you don't burn yourself out before you even get a job.

— Alyssa Mairanz, LMHC, CDBT

Conley—who has worked with the Maryland Board of Education to improve student outcomes – believes that the disruption students are facing in the job market also applies to their schooling environments. This disruption, she says, has upended the educational spaces where students are learning the skills they may transfer to their jobs.

“While the workforce was seeing this whole great resignation, schools were struggling on the other side of that, with trying to do what I'm calling the ‘great reintegration.’”

Tools to Use Moving Forward

So, what tools can students use to mitigate the stress of finding a job in the current environment? 

Both Conley and Mairanz urge those searching for jobs to look beyond what might have traditionally been a typical job for a new graduate, like the aforementioned lifeguarding or table serving, and towards jobs like being a virtual assistant for a family member or helping someone you know organize their office. Meanwhile, Conley says that moving people forward is heavily contingent on their understanding of networking—not just with those outside those circles, but also people they know personally. 

“Okay, you might be having trouble finding a traditional position, right? But what else is it that you can do?  Who's in your network? Who could use support in certain ways?”

Beyond the employment-based tasks people can complete, Mairanz says it’s important to consider both self-care and self-soothing. Self-care being the basics of life, eating, drinking, sleeping, etc. while self-soothing, on the other hand, is when you actively choose to go towards things that bring you comfort. For Mairanz that’s drinking coffee and petting her dog in times where stress relief is needed. 

“A lot of times people are trying to balance everything or are very tunnel-visioned on a task. Like, people say, ‘Applying for a job as a full-time job,’ right? But you have to make sure that you don't burn yourself out before you even get a job.”

What This Means For You

Teens and young adults are facing increased pressures when it comes to the job market. Giving them tools to mitigate and manage stress and anxiety can have positive results when used effectively.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Tracking the COVID-19 economy's effects on food, housing, and employment hardships.

  2. Son C, Hegde S, Smith A, Wang X, Sasangohar F. Effects of COVID-19 on college students’ mental health in the United States: Interview survey studyJ Med Internet Res. 2020;22(9):e21279. doi:10.2196/21279

  3. National Center for Education Statistics. College student employment.

By John Loeppky
John Loeppky is a freelance journalist based in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, who has written about disability and health for outlets of all kinds.