How to Manage Career Transition Stress

There’s no two ways about it. No matter what the reason for the change, the career transition process can be stressful.

When my former company shut down, I had been there for 5 years.  I woke up one day with nowhere to go.  This period of “limbo” was great for a short while.  It was an unexpected opportunity to finally relax and enjoy not having somewhere to be everyday at 7:00 am.  I travelled, caught up with old friends and colleagues.  Oh, and I planned my wedding.

Suffice it to say, the transition was challenging and tested my strength.  Regardless of your situation, there are several strategies that may be helpful in the midst of your stress and potential job-search anxiety.

1. Regain Your Balance

After a job loss, an important piece of your life is missing and you may feel out of control.  Unexpected change is very stressful and upsets your life balance.

Think of your life as a wheel; each part of that wheel is something that is important to you to which you devote significant time and keeps you rolling along on this journey.  It may be composed of Family, Finances, Job, Exercise, Social, and Education.

Living a balanced life is healthy and helps reduce stress.  In spite of your circumstances, there are things you can control.

Think about the following questions and thoughtfully answer each one:

1. After your job transition, how has your life wheel changed?  Think about a typical week and how you spend your time.  List those activities that currently make up your life wheel.  Don’t forget to think about what you’re doing with the time you used to spend working.

2.  What activities need to be added to your life in order to bring more balance, help you accomplish your goals and relieve stress?

3.  What unnecessary things can you postpone or remove?

2. Change Negative Thoughts

During challenging times, your thoughts can become irrational and rigid.  You may experience denial, anger, depression, and acceptance at various moments during this time; all are to be expected during a period of grief and loss.  It’s important to find safe people and places where you can express your emotions; family members, friends, a support group, or a therapist are all good resources.

How has your job loss affected you?  Think about some of the emotions you’re experiencing, and the different types of positive and/or negative coping mechanisms you can use to help pull yourself through.

3. Take Care of YOU

Caring for your body, especially during stressful times, is very important.  It’s easy to create bad eating habits during a job transition.  Be sure to eat a balanced diet of lean proteins, whole grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables, and take supplements as needed.

Exercising revitalizes your spirits and will give you that extra oomph to tackle that job hunt.

Think about the following questions and thoughtfully answer each one:

1. What (if anything) can you do to improve your diet?

2. Think about the type of exercise you enjoy doing.  Are you the most motivated when exercising alone, with a partner, or in a group?  Make time to exercise and practice relaxation techniques daily.

4. Manage Your Finances

Concerns over finances are one of the biggest worries during a job transition.  Identify your most important financial needs, and determine how you will meet them by adjusting your household budget accordingly.  Discuss your finances with the family; job transition affects the entire family.

There are great resources available (e.g. online or at the library) for financial planning to ensure you stick to your means. One simple tip is to become aware of hidden spending.  For example, $2 spent on coffees during the week can add up to $14 per week, or upwards of $700 annually.

5. Be Proactive

Looking for a job is a challenging, time-consuming task.  It’s been said, “Looking for a job is a full-time job.”  It’s important to manage your job search effectively for best results.  Setting too large a goal too quickly will only set you up for failure.  Set small goals, such as “draft a cover letter” or “work on interviewing skills” to keep you motivated.  Another great goal is to reach out to your networking contacts.

Think about the following questions and thoughtfully answer each one:

1. How are you currently staying in contact with others?

2. What else can you be doing to connect with others for support?  Consider attending professional organization meetings or joining a job connections group.  Enlist the support of others to help you.  Don’t be afraid to reach out.

6. Devise a Workable Plan

Take some time to think about what you really want.  Start by asking yourself what you liked about your job, and what you want to avoid in the next job.

Is there a dream that you’ve had for years, or do you have interests you lose yourself in?  Be specific as possible.  Having a solid plan reduces stress and helps increase your confidence in yourself and in your future.

■     Decide what you want to do next.  Challenge can prove to be a great opportunity!

■     Analyze training or education needs (if any) and costs.

■     Discuss your plan with family members.

■     Manage your time for a full-time job search or career transition.

■     Review your plan frequently and check for progress.

■     Plan for unforeseen changes.  Always have a “Plan B” in your back pocket.

This challenging time will eventually pass.  You’re certainly not alone; many others are going through similar emotions and struggles.  Surround yourself with supportive people who understand.  Use this time to rethink, regroup and change your life.

In may not seem like it right this moment, but adversity can result in positive life changes.  You’ll often hear people who’ve successfully transitioned to the next phase in their career say, “It was a rough time in my life.  But it was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to me.

The difference between the stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them.  As Will Rogers once said, “The worst thing that happens to you may be the best thing for you if you don’t let it get the best of you.”

Have you gone through a career transition? How did you handle the stress? Share your tips in the comments.

Photo by Sara. Nel via Flickr.

Popular search terms for this article:

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Shereen Sanchez is an Operations and Analytics Professional, specializing in Project and Account Management. Her many loves include her husband, family, travel, food, writing, gadgets, tech, and two-fers. She has an enthusiasm for life that has led to random experiences, which she occasionally likes to share through pictures and words.


  1. noch on the 9th September

    i think the most important of the above, is TAKE CARE OF YOU first
    above anything
    health, mental health, dreams, relationships… and then everything else will fall in place once you are more self aware and healthy in mind, body and spirit

  2. Jeanne on the 9th September

    All of your suggestions are great. For #6 Devise a Workable Plan – great things to keep in mind and ask youself, but i wanted to add somthing. It’s really good to think about or decide what you want to do next – but my question even before that is what is your passion? If you don’t know – would you like to explore what your passions are? See – a “decision” about what you’re next move is may be based on your experience, you’re contribution to the family income, what you think you are worth, your education…or any number of things, but it still doesn’t answer the question of – what do you WANT to do in your next career? You may have had a position as a financial advisor, real estate broker or hotel manager for years but if you had the choice is that the career that would make you jump out of bed every morning? Is it your passion? I suggest you take that under consideration befor you decide anything – the next positio you decide to take may be short lived simply because you aren’t in the right place – career wise. Thank you for some great tips!

  3. Chris on the 9th September

    I agree with Noch up there. Taking care of ourselves is really important!

  4. Leigh Harris on the 9th September

    Great post with tangible ideas.

    I especially like #1 – Regain Your Balance. All other points fall under this. By examining your life wheel or life balance, you will know if there are too many negative thoughts, if you aren’t spending enough time focusing on your passions, or if you need to devote more time to job search.

    By connecting with others for support (under #5) and running ideas by family members (under #6), you can receive objective feedback to determine if your life balance is viable.

    Thanks for the actionable ideas, Shereen!

  5. Michael Camden on the 18th September

    Great guidance, Shereen! I like Take Care of YOU! Get healthy, if you struggle in that area. Spend more time with family. Start a business. Learn to surf. I’m writing a series of children’s stories, something I have sluggishly planned to do for ions.

  6. Executive X on the 20th September

    Nice ideas. You’ll also find that establishing a career support network is a huge help during a transition too.

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