With the latest lockdown restrictions beginning to ease over the coming weeks, it can bring with it very mixed emotions.
Whether you’re returning to work from a long time on furlough, still waiting to go back or have been working all the way through the most recent lockdown, knowing there are significant changes to come can naturally provoke an anxiety response.
Maybe a member of your family has been shielding again and you’re nervous or fearful about them going back out into the world. Perhaps you’re concerned about another spike and what that might mean for your community. Or maybe you’re looking forward to getting back to a “new normal” with your routine, but have some natural concerns and reservations.
Anxiety is caused by being faced with new, unpredictable or uncertain situations. When you consider that the last year’s COVID world ticks all those boxes, it’s perfectly reasonable to experience such feelings.
When we get anxious, stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol enter our system as part of our fight, flight or freeze response. It’s this physiological response that causes many of the symptoms of stress and anxiety to happen subconsciously. This is not our fault; it’s the way our nervous systems function, which can lead to very unpleasant sensations or thought processes.
You may have a whole list of worries… worried you could be increasing your risk of exposure to the coronavirus if you haven’t had your vaccine yet… worries about your mental health as you adapt to a changed environment or working practises… or maybe just worried that old work stresses from pre-pandemic will have followed you into this new chapter.
So what can we do about it?
Well, it can be really helpful to work out if your worries are normal or excessive. For that, it can be useful to imagine a sliding scale. At one end you have normal levels of worry (which can be useful in supporting us find solutions to problems) and at the other end you have excessive worry. By that, I mean worry that has a negative impact on your daily life.
Take just one of your worries and consider where it sits on this scale. How much is it dominating your thoughts right now? Is it useful to you? Can you do anything about it? Have you got evidence to back up the worry?
If you are worrying more than normal, you may benefit from trying new techniques to manage these worries or concerns to support your wellbeing.
First of all, cut yourself some slack. These continue to be challenging times we find ourselves in. It’s in our nature to prefer to have a blue print for situations, so we can know exactly what to expect. But we don’t have that at the moment. We’re in uncharted territory still. This is difficult, because we’re having to adapt and learn as we go. So give yourself permission to acknowledge how you feel, and try not judge yourself. Being kinder to ourselves can really help lower our stress response and support us to manage our worries and concerns.
Try to limit things that might trigger excess worry. Gather information from reliable sources and people you trust, rather than endlessly watching the news or scrolling on social media, where facts can often get lost in opinion or stories that sensationalise. If it’s important to you to gather information to help you cope, pick your sources carefully. Look at statistics for your local authority or the NHS, as these should be much more reliable.
Talk about how you feel. Share your worries with someone impartial you trust (who will not try to bear the burden for you). This might be a work colleague you’re close to, who may have similar feelings to you. Often just by voicing our worries to another person you can begin to find ways to cope with them.
Allocate yourself dedicated “worry time”. This might sound like an odd suggestion, but bear with me. If you’re worrying excessively, look at setting aside a specific daily time when you give yourself permission to express your concerns for a limited period of time. (Ideally not just before bed!) Try writing down your concerns and then reading them back. This may help you work out where they sit on that scale, whether they’re real problem worries or hypothetical. If it’s real, taking time to work out a solution may help. If it’s hypothetical and based on an endless list of ‘what ifs’, looking at the facts may alleviate some of the concerns. A lot of this worry can be parked for a while, as it’s unlikely to impact in the immediate future, if at all.
Seek reassurance where possible. Employers are taking every precaution to make working environments as safe as possible over the coming months, so if you’re worried about returning to work, try finding out what they are. They may include one-way systems, socially-distanced desks, hand sanitiser stations or limited numbers at any time. It’s likely you’ll be told about all of these measures before you get back to work, but if you’re unsure, find the appropriate person to ask. The safety of you and your colleagues is highly valued.
Experiment with relaxation techniques. As I’ve mentioned, your body releases stress hormones that are designed to provoke a response, so take steps to calm your mind and body. This will also have the added bonus of helping you sleep, which is so important for our wellbeing. We’ve created some guided relaxation sessions, which you can find on our website. We also have a library of recommended health and wellbeing apps you could try to help you relax, which you can find on the same page. The NHS’s Every Mind Matters also has some useful resources.
Whatever your worries are, know that you’re not alone. If you’re struggling to cope, let us help. Don’t suffer in silence. Call our Support Line on 0800 389 8820 or make an enquiry online.