Re-Entry Anxiety: 5 tips to help you cope with going back to work after COVID
You’ve gotten used to working in your PJs or you’re one of the many Americans who were out in the community this whole time as an essential worker. Now they want you to go back to work like everything is back to normal. But is it really back to normal?
For a year and some change, you’ve either been working through zoom meetings in your PJs or dealing with more controlled crowds. Now the flood gates have opened so to speak, and you have to get rid of your comfy pants and put on uncomfortable business clothes. You’ve gone from interacting solely online with controlled interactions with others to having to go back into an office and dealing with people that you haven’t interacted with in ages.
You also now may be dealing with a larger influx of customers and clients and more staff than you’ve been comfortable dealing with. I haven’t even brought up traffic, time management concerns, and child care issues that everyone will be facing this summer.
"Many of us were ripped from our jobs in a matter of one day and protocols have changed in a matter of one day sometimes, so it's a lot to navigate," said Thea Gallagher, a psychologist, and director of the outpatient clinic at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety. "And for many, our lives have been completely different from how they've ever looked before, so going back to how things were is hard."
So what do we do? How do we manage to deal with this new normal? Here are 5 expert-based tips to help you cope with anxiety and boost your mental health as we reopen.
Decide what ways this pandemic impacted you positively
While COVID has caused enormous devastation, it may have also given you some insights into your personal life. Making a list of the positive things you’ve taken away from this experience is a great step forward in discovering your new normal.
When you finish this list, think of some of the good changes and what you would like to maintain. Some examples include, “I don’t want to run around the same way I used to before,” or,” I want to have better work-life balance.”
Stay in the moment and set boundaries
Another way to deal with re-entry anxiety is to set boundaries focused on the areas of your life that you can control. But you should start small.
"When things feel like they're spiraling out of control and not by your choice, it's really important to look for the small parts of control that you can have and build in some predictability and structure to help you feel more in control," said Andrea Bonior, a psychologist and the author of "Detox Your Thoughts." "You don't have to over-control things and you have to accept the things that you can't fully control, but look for areas within it."
One of the biggest examples of this is when you don’t have control of returning to the office in person. Talk to your boss about other options so that you can have flexibility at work.
You’re not alone. This conversation is happening everywhere. You will not be the only person asking these questions.
If you are a parent, you can find ways to keep your family connected even though they will be at summer camp and in-person school. Quick little check-ins and words of encouragement to each other go a long way to keeping down the anxiety you may be feeling.
When it comes to dealing with larger crowds returning to your workplace, taking moments to be outside or in a place with limited activity is a great way to relieve some of the stress you may be feeling.
It’s the small steps that count
It is absolutely okay to re-enter back into society slowly. It can be social events every 2 weeks or even once a month instead of a fully-loaded calendar.
"Start thinking about ways you can make that reentry less like you're jumping into an ice bath and more like you're wading into the water," said Gallagher.
It is okay to turn down events. It is okay for you to not jump back into the pre-COVID life you used to know.
This is a marathon, not a race. And that marathon is at your pace and not the world’s pace. This brings us to our next tip for helping with re-entry anxiety.
Communicate what you’re comfortable doing
Communication has always been an integral piece of our society’s functioning. Now, it is even more important.
"Communication is so important because right now people are assuming, 'Well this person is kind of like me so they're going to want to go to a restaurant as soon as I am,' or, 'Of course they're going to come to my wedding,'" said Bonior. "You can't make assumptions. You have to communicate with people."
If we leave everything up to assumptions not only in the workplace but in our social lives, we run the risk of losing relationships we already have. We also run the risk of destroying others before they have a chance to blossom. We must clearly communicate with others what we are comfortable doing and respect what they tell us in return.
Take care of yourself and listen to what your body needs
We have to find time in the hustle and bustle of life to listen to our bodies. Especially when you might find yourself spiraling from anxiety.
It may not creep up right away. It may be standing in a crowded cafeteria. Or it could be weaving through traffic. When these moments come, try to slow your breath by breathing through your nose and out through your mouth. Notice your body and breath and take note where you feel tense and relax your body.
You should also make sure you are getting enough sleep and taking care of any other needs your body may have. Make sure to pause and have time just to laugh or do something that nourishes you.
We at Constantly Healthy Counseling & Coaching are here for you while you are getting ready to re-enter society. If you need any help, visit our website at www.constantlyhealthy.llc! We have free consultations and can help you navigate this new time in everyone’s lives.