Navigating Our New “Normal”: The Emotions Surrounding Returning to Work

The Emotions Surrounding Returning to Work

Returning to work after months under the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown can cause varying emotions – disbelief, fear and even anger – among workers, much like after a disaster. But we can all play a part in watching for signs of emotional impact in our colleagues and ourselves.

Everyones’ lives have been altered and directly impacted by this crisis. Crisis situations affect people differently, and we may not all respond to the pandemic in the same way. Returning to work after a pandemic is new territory for all of us, and we must have patience with ourselves and others while we navigate this process.

Signs someone may be struggling emotionally in their return to the workplace could include changes in performance and productivity, such as missing deadlines, calling in sick frequently, absenteeism, irritability, difficulty concentration and difficulty with work transitions or changes in routine to name a few.

When it comes to these emotions, when you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. It’s important to acknowledge what we are going through. Your work is to feel your sadness, fear, anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and empower us. The truth is that feelings move through us and the fear that bad feelings will overrun you holds us back from moving forward.

The goal is to find balance in the things you’re thinking;

  1. Come into the present. This will be family advice to anyone who has mediated or practiced mindfulness before. Try naming five things in the room. It’s that simple. Breathe. Realize that in the present moment, nothing you’ve anticipated has happened. In this moment, you’re okay. Use your senses and think about what they feel. The desk is hard. The blanket is soft. I can feel the breath coming into my nose. This really works to bring a sense of calm to the chaos you might be feeling.
  1. You can also think about what you can control versus what you can’t control. What your colleague is doing is out of your control. What is in your control is staying six feet away from them, washing your hands and following your company’s health and safety guidelines. Focus on that.
  1. It’s also a good time to stock up on compassion. Everyone will have different emotions returning to work and it manifests in different ways. So be patient. Think about who someone usually is and not who they seem to be in this moment.

Finally, most of all, prioritize rest and relaxation when transitioning into a new routine. It might sound crazy to tell people to relax during a pandemic. However, when our anxiety is so activated, it’s critical to try to deescalate our bodies and brains.

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