Are you feeling anxious about returning to work?

Returning to work may feel like quite a challenge for you. You’ll be physically interacting with others for the first time after months of being subject to a lockdown. Undoubtedly this will cause feelings of anxiety.

A recent poll suggested that 35% of responders were ‘not comfortable’ about returning to work, 49% felt ‘very/fairly comfortable’ and 61% were not comfortable about using public transport to get to work.

People who feared germs, such as some people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), might worry about re-entering public spaces.

If you experienced psychological conditions before the pandemic may be able to draw on skills you’ve learned through therapy to help you re-engage. But people without any prior experience of anxiety or depression could struggle because they have never had to manage these conditions before.

We haven’t experienced anything like the coronavirus pandemic in recent history, so we simply don’t know how our community will readjust as restrictions ease.

How do you ease anxiety in a post-COVID world?

Anxiety is mainly related to uncertainty – not knowing what your future will hold. This can trigger excessive mental stress, uncontrollable worry, and can even lead to physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, exhaustion and heart palpitations.

You may think that worrying serves a useful purpose, it makes you vigilant and prepared. You believe that it can help you arrive at a better solution by being proactive about a situation… Wrong!

Worrying for even a short amount of time predisposes you to even more worrying. And before you know it, you’re stuck in a vicious cycle that you can’t escape.

It is a myth that worrying helps us arrive at a better solution.

It only makes us feel anxious and stressed – especially if the worrying becomes chronic. Just knowing this can help you take useful steps forward, because you can let go of those anxious thoughts.

To alleviate anxiety, many begin to engage in coping behaviours – such as repetitive, excessive hand-washing – to avert the dreaded outcome. When you do this, you are trying to take control of the situation. But the more you indulge your obsessions, the more – ironically – you begin to lose control.

When you’re unable to rein in your thoughts you lose power over your actions. At this point, OCD has a stronghold over you and it becomes increasingly difficult to get out.

Take simple positive steps to protect yourself – wash your hands for only the recommended amount and wear a mask if advised – and then let life go on. Realise that no matter what you do, it is sometimes impossible to completely protect yourself. Letting go of control is, paradoxically, a way of gaining it back.

Another ironic way to maintain your mental health during times of constant change and uncertainty is to introduce new activities into your life.

By scheduling some controllable positive activities into your life, such as short walks in parks, trying a new recipe or anything else you might quite enjoy, you are encouraging yourself to a adapt a growth mindset.

A growth mindset reduces the fear of uncertainty and the unknown. Your mind acclimates to a sense of spontaneity. When you take the time to engage in new activities, research shows that you not only begin to feel pleasure, but we gain a sense of achievement and control.

The road to mastery is undoubtedly going to feel be scary to some people. Scheduling new things into your life, even if they make you feel happy can be frightening, because they’re taking you out of your comfort zone.

Perhaps you’re cautious about being too happy too quickly. Feeling superstitious that, if you allow yourself to feel good, something bad will happen, that it won’t last, or that you’ll get hurt. Maybe it’s better to have low expectations – not get too excited and maintain the pessimism?

No! If we don’t aim towards happiness, our lives become a flat line.

I personally believe it better to experience a life with ups and downs. A life filled with waves, crests and troughs that allow you to enjoy the great experiences of the highs in comparison to the great lessons learned from the troughs. Embracing life can have a significant impact on our mental health and places us on a path to wellbeing – even during a pandemic.

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