Feeling uneasy about life going back to ‘normal’? You’re not alone. Sophrologist Dominique Antiglio shares five tips for transitioning back to work and life as lockdown eases…
By Dominique Antiglio, sophrologist at be-sophro.com
Although the UK is largely back to normal in terms of the majority of shops and public places being open again, two months spent in lockdown, with all the curtailments to our activities and movements it entailed, has led to some experiencing what’s called ‘re-entry anxiety’. This is a form of stress associated with the fear of being unable, or not wanting, to re-adapt to previously established routines and environments. It’s a common phenomenon for individuals facing changes to routine but now it’s far more widespread, thanks to lockdown affecting the habits and patterns of millions of us.
Going back to an environment where new rules will apply and previous conventions no longer seem to work or feel relevant can exacerbate feelings of isolation and loneliness. This feeling of ‘not belonging’, feeling like you’re unable to adapt quickly enough, or even questioning your ability to perform and keep up, can affect confidence, self-identity and mental health.
The thing to remember is that this anxiety is totally normal, especially after having lived through two months of deep change, which has totally disrupted our work, family and social lives. Here, I’ve provided some tips on how best to cope…
1) Returning to your workplace
If you’ve been working from home for months, it will feel a little odd returning to your place of work. Acknowledge the anxiety but dig a little further so you are clear about the specific reasons driving the anxiety. Are you concerned about your health and the working environment, the expectation placed on you by work and colleagues? Once you know what is driving your reluctance, you can start to rewire how you feel about it so you can view it from a different mind-set, essentially thinking your way into a more positive state.
Socialising is incredibly beneficial for feeling like we ‘belong’, having a sense of community and does wonders for our mental health, so you might start to see the health benefits of your work environment instead of it being a fearful environment. Or, you might view the expectations placed on you as a form of admiration and competency, which can help you build up the confidence to train up others so you can delegate the workload, so you’re not taking it all on. You might not be able to change external world, but you can decide how you are going to experience it.
2) Discuss what’s behind any anxiety
If you are coming up against real hurdles, use this transition time as your opportunity to verbalise it. Everybody – your family, boss, colleagues and company – will have been affected one way or another, so it’s an opportune and appropriate time to share your thoughts, insights, learning, wants and needs. In fact, companies are actively welcome feedback during this time, so be confident about making clear what your needs are at work, how change can be beneficial to the company, and put boundaries in place where you need to. This could take shape in the form of delegating workload when it gets too busy to handle, or heading home at a certain time so you’re not working long hours. Verbalising your thoughts can help to build your confidence and give you back a sense of control when everything else may be chaotic. This is a healthy approach to managing the anxiety – nobody will be going back onto autopilot to exactly what they were doing before.
3) Focus on the present moment
One of the best ways to keep anxiety at bay is to make the effort to stay in the present moment, the reason being that this form stress and anxiety focuses on the unknown and uncertainty – whether about the safety of your environment, or how your day-to-day role has now changed and old routines no longer work. Once the mind latches onto these fears, thoughts can escalate very quickly and you could end up catastrophising about something that hasn’t even happened, causing a lot of unnecessary stress. Nobody knows how things will unfold in the future but we also never know this in everyday life anyway, pandemic or not. Therefore, the perception that something could go terribly wrong tomorrow is something to watch and be careful of.
To help you stay in the present moment, try practicing sophrology, which is a form of dynamic meditation that uses calming breathing techniques, movement, visualisation and grounding. There’s a technique I teach called The Pump that can help you release pent-up stress and anxiety when your mind starts to run away or catastrophes.
- Stand tall, close your eyes, and allow your arms to fall by your sides.
- Mentally locate where in the body you feel the stress, anxiety or tension, and clench your fists.
- Exhale through your mouth, take a deep breath in through your nose, and hold the breath.
- Now ‘pump’ both your shoulders up and down until you need to breathe out. The pumping action helps to oxygenate your brain.
- As you exhale, allow your clenched fists to relax, visualising all your tension and anxiety draining out through your fingertips.
- Repeat the process for as long as you need to release any lingering agitation.
4) Have an ‘anchor’ that reminds you of routine
As creatures of habit, we crave consistency and routine, so returning to an environment where norms no longer apply, working practices have changed, not all work colleagues are present and communication and interaction are at a distance or digitised, can throw us off our sense of ‘belonging’. We might even start to question our ability to perform at work.
Having an anchor will help you create a sense of routine and make you feel more in control during a time of change. This anchor could be a number of things, either physical or an activity, such as: making a cup of tea around the same time, going for a short walk, finding 10 minutes for yourself in a meeting room to practice calming breathing, having an object on your desk you can focus on.
5) Connect to your friends and family
Never underestimate the power of a good talk, even if it’s still over Skype or Zoom (although now multiple households can meet up, it’s far easier to see people in person). Sometimes, talking through your thoughts aloud with a friend can be a great way of understanding where your concerns stem from, and where you might be able to nip them in the bud or start to address them. Having someone to bounce thoughts off and be a support can be really cathartic and help to lighten the metaphorical load, so you can think more clearly and creatively about your hurdles.