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“Oh No, Multitasking!?”: Handling the Job Search (with an Anxiety Disorder)

The ideal candidate will be skilled at multitasking and working in a fast-paced environment.

Well, that’s more than enough to scare away the anxiety-disordered job-seeker, isn’t it?

Finding a job is tough. Finding a job that’s a good fit for someone who has an anxiety disorder is even more difficult. How is it possible? It’s not like you can openly profess your panic disorder or anxious tendencies to the hiring manager and hope for an understanding nod. So, how can you realistically navigate the job-search process and find a job that works for you?

I’ve spent the past five years trying to hold my anxiety and panic tendencies at bay. I’m doing well these days, and I owe a wide round of thanks to cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, and lifestyle changes. I eat well, (try to) exercise regularly, and I do one thing at a time.

Yes, just one….thing. At. A. Time.

I’d never fully realized how much of a serial multi-tasker I was until I began practicing mindfulness meditation in graduate school. I would sit on a chair in my quiet living room in an attempt to “tune in” to the moment and stop thinking about what needed to be done, but a constant stream of to-do lists would cloud my mind. Finish my persuasion paper by seven o’clock. Don’t forget to do the dishes tonight. Call my boss back before the end of the day. Call maintenance about the leak in my ceiling. What smells funny in here? Find the source. Speaking of sources, I need more references for my persuasion paper. Figure out how to reset my office voicemail. Oh no, I have an exam next week! What time am I supposed to meet with that prospective student?

With practice, I was able to ditch the habit of thinking about (and doing!) twenty things at once. I learned to do the dishes while thinking exclusively about the dishes. I discovered that banging out the rough draft of a ten-page paper in one sitting was, surprisingly, less stressful than writing a tiny bit at a time and leaving Microsoft Word open on my desktop for the (few) moments during which I felt inspired. I found out that I study better for exams if I’ve already completed reading my weekly dose of peer-reviewed journal articles. I began doing one thing at a time. I became focused. My mental clarity improved and my stress level receded below the levee.

And now, I’m a proud graduate. Like the rest of my classmates, I’m looking for a job. And yes, they all seem to require a love of multitasking as a prerequisite! If you’re anything like me, the thought scares you. But, the phrase is everywhere, and most jobs require multitasking to some degree. These lines are taken directly from the last three job listings I’ve viewed on major career-search Web sites:

“Candidates should enjoy multitasking and possess a strong desire to succeed.”

“Must be able to multi-task several projects at a time.”

“Candidate needs to multi-task between handling email, telephone, and projects as assigned.”


Tips for Handling Job Search Anxiety

It’s a bit intimidating, but I’m determined to push on and find a job that isn’t going to stress me to pieces. Here’s some tips for handling the job search process if you, like me, are hoping to keep your anxiety and stress levels in check:

1. Don’t outright ignore the job listings that include words and phrases such as “multi-tasking”, “meeting tight deadlines”, and “stressful environment.”

You can never be sure if the company representative who wrote the job listing is writing about what the position is like on the absolute worst day or on a standard day at the office. Send in an application if the job meets your needs and skills; worry about the semantics later.

2. If you’re contacted for an interview, prepare yourself with a list of questions to ask your potential employer.

Many employers like to see a candidate ask questions about the position, so throw in a few neutrally-worded questions about the office culture, deadline structure or project timelines, or the position’s daily goals. However, be careful to avoid direct questions about job pressures. Some commonly recommended questions include the following:

  • What would a typical first assignment be?
  • How much travel is normally expected?
  • What are some examples of the short and long-term goals of the project or position?
  • What qualities are you looking for in the ideal candidate?

Asking questions can help you to feel out if the position truly is too stressful for you to handle, and it demonstrates to your potential employer that you have an interest in the position.

3. If you are presented with a job offer, weigh the pros and cons carefully.

Consider the following questions: What will the job do for your anxiety and stress level? Will the job produce positive or negative stress for you? What types of coping skills can you use (or must you develop) in order to handle the pressures of the job? Would refusing the job offer be a step toward unhealthy avoidance of an anxiety trigger or would it be a healthy way of managing your lifestyle?

4. If you choose to accept the job, keep your physical and mental stress levels in check.

Making small changes in the way you organize your desk, computer files, or office can have a profound difference on your sense of well-being. If you are required to multi-task, do your best to complete one activity before starting another. For example, if you are responsible for checking email and answering phones at the same time, don’t look at your inbox while you’re on a phone call. If you’re assigned two projects to be completed by the end of the business day, try dedicating your morning to one and your afternoon to the other (instead of hastily trying to complete both at one time!) When you turn your attention to one task at a time, your quality of work will likely increase as well.

Finally, utilize all breaks that are given to you to get out of your workspace and into a more relaxing environment (the break room or the outdoors, for example). Only use your break time for errands if you absolutely must. Breaks are meant for relaxation and rejuvenation!

“Oh No, Multitasking!?”: Handling the Job Search (with an Anxiety Disorder)

Summer Beretsky

Summer Beretsky enjoys writing about her experiences with anxiety, panic, and Paxil. She had her first panic attack as an undergrad at Lycoming College and plenty more while she worked toward her M.A. in Communication from the University of Delaware. Summer blogs over at Panic About Anxiety and also contributes to the World of Psychology blog here on PsychCentral. She has also written for the Los Angeles Times. Follow her on Twitter @summerberetsky.

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APA Reference
Beretsky, S. (2018). “Oh No, Multitasking!?”: Handling the Job Search (with an Anxiety Disorder). Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 17 Jul 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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