Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in the UK, the last time I went out (apart from to the supermarket) was to see a venue for a Book Festival taking place in September that I’m a key interviewer for. I was actually excited at the prospect, but by the time I had got ready, got in the car, realised en route that I needed petrol, and eventually arrived… I felt quite stressed and needed five minutes to centre myself.
When I finally got out of my car and entered the venue, I found playing the ‘socially distanced game’ of not getting too close to anyone and making conversation (through a mask) really weird, to say the least.
While driving back, I reflected on how strange it will be for those of us returning to the office or work environment soon. Will we have lost the ability to function as per the old normal? And how will we all interact when Zoom and the virtual world has changed our communications so much? Has our ability to be social and to interact been damaged?
As human beings, wired by the primeval part of our brains (the Limbic Amygdala) for survival, we have a negativity bias that keeps us on high alert for what is wrong (or a threat) and to seek comfort in what is familiar. Over the last year we, as an adaptive species, have made the unfamiliar (lockdown and working from home for many) familiar. So now, the reverse is true, and what was once commonplace will feel strange and possibly a threat.
Of course, there may be real threats. For those frontline and essential workers who have been going to work there have been new checks and balances and rules that have been adjusted several times.
For most of us however, the repeat warnings from our governments to stay at home seems at odds with any requirement to return to the office, so the prospect of doing so will naturally feel uncomfortable to us. Add in that familiar ‘return to the office’ dread or apprehension that we used to feel after a holiday, with the added fear over commuting, it is hardly surprising that you may be feeling anxious as you leave your bubble for what seems like the unknown.
Five ways to help you return to the office well
We are tribal and connected beings and a way to punish people is to forcibly separate and isolate them such as via solitary confinement in prison. Loneliness affects your hormones, and chronic loneliness has as detrimental effect on a person as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In many ways, this sense of connection is something the pandemic has taken away from us, and we need to find it again.
You may be thinking, well I have connected in lockdown so what is the problem? Invariably you will have connected with the people closest to you and less regularly. So even the prospect of having to be in a room with several of your peers may feel very unfamiliar and daunting.
Whatever your circumstances during the pandemic, you have likely not had the mental stimulus or repeat usage of your social skills that you were used to – and, like anything that you don’t use much, these can weaken over time.
In the case of your brain, this can lead to memory being impaired (this has been proven to be the case for people who have endured long periods of social isolation). So, just trying to remember that fact or the right way to say something while speaking to your boss may then cause you stress. A combination of feeling stressed, unfamiliar (or unprotected in primeval terms), combined with feeling a bit tired and emotional can lead to undesirable responses, such as anger or irritation or even a complete shutdown. Therefore, it is crucial that you ease yourself back in gently.
Here are a few of my tips to help:
Close your eyes and imagine how it will feel to have the sand under your feet, wind blowing in your hair and the freedom of a beach holiday again. Or if this is not for you, then imagine the desired place you will go when restrictions truly lift. Hold onto that feeling and remember how excited you were when you landed your job originally after an application and interview process. You wanted it. You chose it. On your first day I’m sure you were nervous, and it seemed very unfamiliar. It may seem unfamiliar again but remember the good aspects and that you choose it. Perhaps new eyes and a new perspective will make it a joy again.
About this author
Rosalyn Palmer is a Transformational Coach and Therapist, author, columnist and broadcaster. She is UK based and has an international teletherapy private practice as an Advanced Rapid Transformational Therapist, Clinical Hypnotherapist and award-winning coach.
Rosalyn is the wellbeing expert on radio show Girls Around Town and for The Newark Advertiser newspaper. She features regularly on podcasts and in many publications for her easy to understand mental health advice.
As author of the award-winning self-help book: ‘Reset! A Blueprint for a Better Life’ she shares many of her own former challenges as a stressed-out MD of a leading London PR agency and then offers practical advice for readers to create more balanced lives. Rosalyn is now also a co-author of Amazon No.1 bestselling self-help books ‘Ignite Your Life for Women’, ‘Ignite Your Female Leadership’ and ‘Ignite for Female Changemakers’.
A member of the National Council of Psychotherapists; General Hypnotherapy Register & Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council.
Formerly the MD/Founder of Award winning PR agency RPPR, Head of Marketing for an International charity and Head of Insight for a T&D company, and with an enviable CV from leading London agencies in the 80s and 90s, Rosalyn has grown from many challenging life experiences. This colours and tempers her writing, broadcasting and speaking.
Rosalyn Palmer CC.Hyp. MPMH. ARRT.
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