Going Back to Work After the Pandemic
…that Sunday night feeling, multiplied by 1000.
Everyone is talking about the new normal. No one really knows what that will look like. Currently, normal, at least for me and most people I know, is staying home, staying within the confines of our own personal space, and going outside of that only for necessities. Today is day 49 of “staying at home” 95% of the time.
You know how you feel on Sundays, knowing you have to go back to work on Monday morning? Well that feeling is like multiplied by 1000 since being home for over a month. Even for those of us working from home, there’s still the whole GOING to work part.
GOING to work, which used to be the norm, is now totally different and is anxiety producing for several reasons…
- What will we have to do (wear masks, social distance, disinfect our spaces)?
- Will we be risking our health or the health of our family and others around us?
- Will it be difficult to get back into another routine – yeah it might have been our routine before, but change is hard.
- Will others think I’m crazy or a paranoid if I don’t want them standing close to me?
These unknowns lead to fear, which creates anxiety. There is a lot that we can’t control in this kind of situation. (Read about how to be ok with having no control.)
I have accepted fear as part of life – specifically the fear of change… I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says TURN BACK. ~Erica Jong
THE BIG ANXIETY ACCELERANT – OUR NEGATIVITY BIAS
One of the most powerful accelerants of anxiety is the negativity bias, which is innate. Having a negativity bias means that it is more likely for us to focus on, and even give more importance to, negative experiences than positive or neutral experiences. There was a good reason for having a negativity bias when we humans were fighting just to stay alive; it comes from the part of our brain that protects us.
Dr. Rick Hanson, cofounder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom explains that “humans evolved to be fearful — since that helped keep our ancestors alive — so we are very vulnerable to being frightened and even intimidated by threats, both real ones and “paper tigers.”
Going back to work can feel like a threat to this part of our brain, because we don’t know, with any kind of certainty, what it will be like.
THE BODY’S REACTION (AND WHY…)
When we are in a heightened state of protecting ourselves from harm, our bodies react accordingly, and we become stressed.
WebMD defines stress as “the body’s reaction to harmful situations — whether they’re real or perceived. When you feel threatened, a chemical reaction occurs in your body that allows you to act in a way to prevent injury. This reaction is known as “fight-or-flight,” or the stress response. During stress response, your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscles tighten, and blood pressure rises. You’ve gotten ready to act. It is how you protect yourself.”
So, when we think about our questions or fears about going back to work (or some other life change that we can’t control), our bodies’ stress responses kick into gear.
For me, these show up as insomnia, headaches, body stiffness/aches, and lack of focus or concentration. Or you may also experience upset stomach, depression, loss of libido, fatigue, heartburn.
When we stay in this “fight or flight” state, we put ourselves at risk of serious illness or disease, like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, weakened immune system, cardiovascular issues/risk of heart attack, or respiratory issues (Healthline.com).
CHANGE YOUR MINDSET TO FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE AND…FIND PEACE
Knowing that we have this negativity bias and are more prone to think that something bad will happen, instead of thinking of the potential positive outcomes or opportunities, is helpful in changing our mindset.
Dr. Hansen says understanding how our brains “became so vigilant and wary, and so easily hijacked by alarm, is the first step.” We “know” that going back to work isn’t that bad, but our bias of focusing on the negative outcome and our need to protect ourselves results in feeling emotions that cause stress and physical responses in the body.
The next step is to pay attention to – or mindfully notice – our thoughts. We do this so that we can turn the thoughts around and create a sense of calm about the situation. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like it, but we do have the power to control or change our thoughts. Mindfulness and meditation help us to pay attention to where our thoughts are going.
When we notice ourselves worrying about going back to work and how we will handle it, we can bring our thoughts back to the present moment. During meditation, we are always bringing our attention back to the breath or other “anchor,” which is practice for moving our attention from negativity or worry to “just being in the present moment.”
It is super important to refrain from judging yourself for having these worrying thoughts. (It is normal to have these thoughts and we DO have the negativity bias to consider.)
When we bring ourselves back to the present by focusing on our breathing, we automatically become more relaxed. AHHH. This is the goal!
And, becoming more relaxed leads to an overall sense of peace – the ULTIMATE goal!
There are many different reasons for feeling anxious about returning to work. You may have children still at home who are doing online/remote classes that may need your direction or guidance. You may have elderly parents that rely on you as their caretaker or or you live with people who are more at risk and you don’t want to jeopardize their health. You may have to return to a job where you will have close contact with the public.
It’s normal to fear change and worry about how things will look or what might be expected of you. So be gentle with yourself. There is no need to criticise yourself for things that are natural human reactions.
I would love to see you prioritize yourself to find that place of peace. And a simple way to do that is by practicing mindfulness and carving out 10-15 minutes per day for meditation.
Every day, I acknowledge my gratitude for learning about mindfulness practices. These are what brought me to that peace and I know that they can help you too!
And, if you are able to practice with consistency, it can make a world of difference!
I use a Habit Tracker to check in with myself and see how consistent I am with my various routines. Try this FREE Habit Tracker to help you with consistently adding some super simple things to your daily routine!
I highly recommend this 13 minute Ted Talk where Dr. Hanson talks about how to overcome the brain’s negativity bias.