by: Marie Hartzel, LPC, LCADC, ACS
As states are starting to ease stay-at-home orders, so are businesses. Employers are currently working on guidelines for their employees to physically transition back to work. Some employees, however, may still have anxiety about contracting Covid-19. Therefore, it is important for individuals to create their own plan to be safe and healthy.
As employers are thinking about and planning for the return of workers, employees need to think of their own “phase in” approach. Everyone’s situation is unique, and therefore, how individuals return or phase in will also be different. Some may have physical conditions that put them at a higher risk, and they should check with their doctor and HR department to determine if it is safe to physically return to work.
In addition, individuals should evaluate their mental and emotional health. Start with taking a mental heath inventory. Are you mentally and emotionally ready to return? Are you experiencing anxiety about your safety? Symptoms of anxiety include: fatigue or loss of energy, difficulty with concentration, constant worry, inability to relax, avoidance of stressful situations, irritability, and difficulty sleeping. If excessive anxiety and worry is occurring more days than not, and you find it difficult to control these feelings, you should reach out to a mental heath professional for assessment and treatment.
If you are ready to return to work, here are some things you should consider adding to your own return-to-work protocol:
Practice ways to manage your anxiety, including meditation, yoga, exercise, and mindfulness. Some of these can be guided using one or more free apps. Practice these techniques often and make one or more part of your daily routine before returning. You can also use them while you are at work. Consider these strategies to be part of your “toolbox” of coping skills.
Focus on and embrace the return to structure. Lack of structure can increase anxiety. Try to create a regular work routine at home before returning to work.
Doing all you can to be your best physically and mentally. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, maintain a healthy diet and exercise. Sleep, diet and exercise are important for overall health and mood.
Stay connected with colleagues. Try to check in with them regularly. This will help you feel connected with others who may be going through the same issues. Reach out to your manager or supervisor to discuss what is expected during the transition and take this opportunity to raise any issues or concerns that you may have.
Once you return to work, consider the following actions for your individual health, which may help with your overall emotional and mental health:
Take additional breaks, if permitted, especially if you are required to wear a mask. You need time to take a break and just breathe without a mask on. Make sure you do so in a safe and isolated location. During your break, use your coping skills to reduce your anxiety. Try to practice at least one, even if it is only for 5 minutes. Use these breaks as your self-care moment.
If worried about contracting Covid-19, do everything in your power to protect yourself and others. Wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your eyes and face, wear a mask or face covering, clean your work area often, practice social distancing and stay home if you are sick. Your place of work should have guidelines in place for employees. Make sure that you follow them not only for your safety, but also for that of your co-workers.
Know what to expect. You may experience many different emotions as you start thinking about physically returning to work. This is normal. Make sure you talk to someone you trust or a mental health professional about any worries or emotions that you are feeling. Remember that you are not alone. Others are going through the same thing.
Check with your employer to determine what resources may be offered to employees as they return to work. Some companies are offering on-line resources to deal with anxiety. Check with your health insurance company to see what assistance they may be offering members. Many health insurance companies are waiving co-pays or deductibles if you are seeking mental health services due to Covid-19. If you are looking for a mental heath professional, find out if your company offers an employee assistance program, or EAP, and if not, call your health insurance company directly and ask for assistance in finding a provider.
If you feel there is not enough support at work, consider discussing this with your supervisor. Employers should be watching out for signs of the emotional impact that returning to work may be having on employees. In addition, you should watch for signs that co-workers may be struggling. Such signs include: changes in performance and productivity, frequent absences, irritability, anger and withdrawal from workplace activities.
If you were seeing a therapist before the pandemic, continue to stay in touch as you transition back to work.
Remind yourself that there will be an adjustment period. Take it one day at a time. Your workplace will not be the same as it was so it will take time to adjust.
Finally, remember — it is okay to feel anxious. You are not alone, many are experiencing the same emotions. There is nothing wrong with feeling anxious. These are uncertain times and change is not always easy.