Podcast Episode 16: The office is open. How to reduce anxiety post COVID-19

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As workplaces begin to re-open, many people are feeling the stress and anxiety of going back into the workplace after working remotely for the last year+ due to Covid.  Re-entry anxiety may be real for you. Many people have mixed feelings about going back to the office. Join me as we discover:

  • Your re-entry non-negotiables
  • How to rethink everything
  • Thoughts on how to rebuild your social skills
  • Tips for managing anxiety on-the-go
  • How to separate fact from grief

Re-entry anxiety may be real for you. Many people have mixed feelings about going back to the office. From safety to reluctantly giving up the perks of flexibility and zero commute time. 

Read the Transcript
May is mental health month. May is a time to raise awareness of those living with mental or behavioral health issues and to help reduce the stigma so many experience.

Without question, the pandemic has posed mental health challenges for so many–nearly half of the world’s workplaces were ordered to shut down by their government during COVID-19 and if you weren’t personally impacted by you or a loved one contracting the virus, then it’s highly likely you were impacted by the social distancing, the mask guidelines, and the changes you were forced to make to your life.

With workplaces slowly reopening I know some of you are feeling the pressure to get back into the office. 

American Psychological Association’s 2021 Stress in America survey found that about half of all Americans are feeling concerned about a return to in-person interactions after the pandemic ends.

Re-entry anxiety may be real for you. Many people have mixed feelings about going back to the office. From safety to reluctantly giving up the perks of flexibility and zero commute time. 

As we continue to see things shift in the pandemic and the start of workplaces opening up, I wanted to talk about how to manage the negative feelings and ease your anxiety.  

First area is Safety Preparation

Ask your company for the safety protocols. Most companies have proactively released information but if you haven’t seen anything ask HR or your leadership team ask them. 

Check with your company so you have clarity. 

Know your wellbeing non-negotiables

What are your non-negotiables? 

How can you ease back into the transition? What do you need?

You are going to be interacting with more people than what’s been your usual routine over the last 14 months. As social distancing changed how we greet each other from hugs to hand shakes. Figure out what feels right for you.
Plan in advance how you plan to respond so you can respect your boundaries. 

Whether you’re returning to the office full time or just a few days per week, the change may feel daunting. 

It may be hard to give up the flexibility and ease of working from home every day but there are bound to be several advantages about going back into the office. 

How can you lessen the stress that comes with this change in your work?

How do you want to think about sleep, exercise, meal prep, downtimes and building or continuing to follow your healthy routine. 

Do you want to set aside time for breaks for getting up and even going outside? This is a time to rethink everything. 

If there is one thing I believe many will agree on is that we don’t want to go back to the things in our work life that were not working. So what if you mentally quit EVERYTHING and then build back only what you want in your work life? It’s a powerful exercise. It’s like a Marie Kondo for your career. Take everything out. Only then put the things you want back in. 

Mindset and mindfulness can really help to ease anxiety and re-entry. 

When the recruitment firm Korn Ferry asked more than 1,000 professionals this month what they were most looking forward to when they return to the office, 20% of them said “nothing.

Only about 30% of the survey respondents believe they’ll be back working at the office when it reopens. There’s a lot of mix feelings and opinions. 

When thinking about the next phase, It’s totally normal to feel some social anxiety when thinking about going back to the office and interacting with a group of co-workers, so it’s understanding that seeing people again, may be awkward. 

Normalize your feeling of nervousness. You are not the only one that feels this way. Knowing that others feel the same way gives many people comfort and you are not alone. Your feelings aren’t an anomaly. They are real but they can be managed.  

If you manage others you have an opportunity to talk about your own feelings and to normalize the uneasiness we’re experiencing. Around re-entry. Also, check in with individuals on your team regularly. Not everyone is going to openly tell you that they are feeling stressed. It is also a good opportunity to be aware of the services your company offers around mental health and employee wellness benefits and ensure your team has this information at the ready. 

Although we will all respond differently in the After Times, know that for most of us there have been many collective experiences which build empathy and community. We may have an idea of what others are going through. We have an opportunity to get and give support. 

It’s totally normal so that this adjustment will take some time. And while you may not be thrilled with going back in but be patient with yourself. Getting back to normal, or to a new normal, will take some time. The transition time will vary depending on your situation and it may be anywhere from a month to three months. It’s almost like starting a new job. Be gentle with yourself. 

Your social skills may have eroded since you’re not used to making small talk in person anymore. The normal cadence of conversation, the ease of chatting when your in between meetings or sitting in closer proximity. And you may also have sensory overload. 

The first few times I saw a group of friends after the initial restrictions were eased was really weird for me and I was in almost a sensory overload–AND I talk to people for a living. 

Years ago I created the rule of 3-2-1 for attending industry and networking events. 

Before the event I would intentionally think, who are the 3 people I’d like to connect with, What are the 2 questions I would ask them, and I only have to stay 1 hour. 

This helped me enormously and reduced my anxiety. If I was having fun and in the flow, I may stay longer but this really helped me be intentional with how to spend the time and to reduce my anxiety enough to be able to show up and not be awkward. 

When I converting this formula to the office re-entry scenario I would think, similarly Who do I want to connect with today, what do I want to know or ask them, and I only have to get through one hour at a time. Chunking it down for me always made it more manageable. 

Also know that anticipatory stress or the stress of thinking that you are going to be stressed can be really overwhelming. Holding space for two opposing thoughts, the cognitive dissonance, is possible. You can be stressed about the safety concerns and be glad about seeing your colleagues. It’s not either or, it’s yes and. 

Visualize the best case scenario instead of the worst-case scenarios. Pausing and using the power of your imagination consciously, and creating how you want the experience to be like will help reduce pre-traumatic stress and help you function better as you go into re-entry. 

Being aware of breathing techniques and mindset exercises are all easy and portable ways to bring calm into your day. 

Breath work is a really helpful tool you can do quickly and use anywhere. 

Simply breathe in for the count of 2, hold it for the count of 2, and then exhale for the count of 2. Repeat 2-3 times or until you feel calmer. 

If you are wearing a mask, consider placing a drop of peppermint or orange essential oil on the mask can be really helpful. Just don’t put the drop near your mouth or nose orifices. Put the drop on the side of the mask near your jawbone. One drop is enough for a literal breath of fresh air. And the chemical components in the plant extract are known or their mood brightening effect. 

Going back into the office may have its benefits for you too. Loneliness is at an all time high and this could be reduced by going back to the office. Loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, researchers athe the US Health Resources and Services Administration 

In addition to rebuilding social connections and easing loneliness, fewer distractions at home may result in you being more productive, and as I said previously to rethink everything – may be you want a clarity and boundaries around a work and life balance. 

This is an opportunity for us to rethink everything. Refresh your thinking on what’s good. Who are you excited to see? What’s good about the aspects of going back? Can you form new routines? 

Some of us are separators where we perform best when things are separated. This is your work time, this is your family or personal time. If you identify as one of these people you may have more of a marathoner mindset.
Meaning you are singly focused. You work a chuck, then you attend to your personal life. You don’t pick work back up again until the following day. You can focus and separate the two worlds for long stretches. Work is focused and intense. You don’t stop until it’s stopping time. I’m a separator. 

Then there are integrators. These are people who like to mix it up and may toggle back and forth between responsibilities. If this sounds like you, you may be more of a sprinter, you are energized by shorter chunks of time.
The working remotely nature of this past year might have served your style of working. You may find yourself stopping to prepare a meal or throw on a load of laundry. In between meetings. Then you pick up work again. You integrate work and life and you find the switching of tasks easier than waiting to get your personal stuff done after the business day. 

Whether you are an integrator or a separator, what part of this ways of working to you want to bring back into this next re-opening phase? Take what you like and leave the rest. 

I am also seeing a huge opportunity to reduce the pressure of presenteeism but it’s going to take employees and employers to do so. 

Presenteeism is typically defined as the putting aside physical and mental health problems because of unrealistic employer expectations and time pressures.

But it can also be interpreted as the culture of workers spending more hours in the office, yet not necessarily being productive the entire time, as a way of putting in “facetime” in front of leadership. 

There were times in my career where we had a look out. Waiting for the signal from the person who sat closest to the elevator. Direct messengers could be heard around the office with everyone asking “if he or she was gone yet?” I shudder at what we used to be expected to do and the wasted hours. 

This is another way we can rethink everything. While businesses are considering flexible working environments and building on the working from home environment, it’s essential that you make sure that you are doing this to yourself and encouraging your team or colleagues to take the time they need if they are ill or to leave when the work is done, not just because the boss left for the day. 

Separate facts from grief

For the millions globally who have lost a family member, got sick, or watch someone they care about get sick from covid 19 they may be still traumatized and returning to a workplace may add extra stress. 

We have to be willing to feel what we are going to feel. 

If you tense up before a fall you can break something. 

If you relax and fall softly, be in acceptance you won’t get hurt. Maybe just a bruise.

If you can relax and mentally allow the feelings, which means not telling yourself something’s going wrong, not telling yourself that you shouldn’t have the feeling or that it’s a problem, it’ll be so much less painful. 

And the paradox of thought work is you can’t process an emotion until you’re willing to feel it fully.  

You can’t use thought work to go around negative emotions and avoid ever having them. 

There’s a Buddhist saying that the only way out is through. And that’s really true. You won’t be able to change your thoughts and therefore eventually change your feelings until you’re willing to have them.

There’s a pure pain that comes from loss, or death. I may want to allow for grief or loss or sadness, or nostalgia.
Notice said may. There’s no should. 

Love and loss are in proportion to each other. We experience loss because we experience love. So the defining characteristic of pure pain is that it really flows through you pretty clearly. I find that you can actually feel the pure pain is kind of sharp and clear and pure almost, and it tends to come in waves with breathers in between. When we love someone (or something) and they die we pain because of that love. 

Get support through a therapist or a coach to help you process what you are thinking and feeling. They’ll  help you separate which part of what you are feeling is grief and which part is anxiety. This will help you reduce the stress and anxiety and help you function better.

To recap: 

Safety prep – get clear in what your company is doing to support a safe atmosphere. 

Your wellbeing – what are your non-negotiables around health, exercise, nutrition, social distancing and greeting others.  

Mindset – think intentionally about how you want to rebuild your day to day. This is a great time to mentally quit everything and build back the things that work for you. 

Separate facts from grief. Get support through a therapist or a coach to help you process what you are thinking and feeling

And let me know how you are doing with the reentry and if you need support of have questions. You can email me at Hello@Jillgriffincoaching.com 

Alright my friends. I am looking forward to hearing how you are going to rebuild as you re-enter. Until next time. 

Tune into The Refresh Your Career Podcast Available on all streaming apps. https://jillgriffin.buzzsprout.com/

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Tune into The Refresh Your Career Podcast Available on all streaming apps. https://jillgriffin.buzzsprout.com/