Workplaces are starting to slowly reopen after the COVID-19 (coronavirus) lockdown, and the end of enforced hibernation is within sight. You might be one of those people champing at the bit to get back into your old routine. But for some, having spent the last two or three months in the comfort (and perceived safety) of home, you may now be experiencing mixed feelings about heading back into your work environment.

If that sounds familiar, here’s six ways to help manage your wellbeing as you transition back into the workplace.

1. Recognise and accept your feelings

Taking the time to recognise how you feel about returning can help you understand why you feel that way. There’s no right or wrong way to feel about the unusual situation we’re in. Amy Jacobson is an emotional intelligence and human behaviour specialist with over 20 years experience as a leadership trainer, coach and keynote speaker. She says “Our mindsets have been through a process very similar to grief. We’ve experienced everything from disbelief, to fear and fight for survival through to empathy.”

Not everyone will be excited to return, and that’s okay because it’s a process and we’re all at different stages. We’re expected to feel some anxiety about venturing out, the virus and contagion. You might also be feeling a sense of loss. Having to factor in commuting time again, not being able to wear whatever you want, and juggling school drop off and pick up with a work schedule once again. Amy advises that “Recognising where we are in the process, how we feel and focusing on how to move towards just the next step is the best approach for our mindset.”

2. Decide what you’re keeping and leaving from lockdown

Extra time at home has seen many people take stock of their pre-COVID life. As you head back into the workplace, think of it as an opportunity to cement what life after lockdown looks like for you. Decide what you want to take forward into your post-COVID world. “It takes an average of 21 days to form a habit when we are focused and want to achieve it. Leverage the habits that are good and make us happy, as they are already on the way to being embedded,” says Amy.

Perhaps it’s better work/life boundaries or a desire to work from home more often. Similarly, it’s a chance to leave behind some of those lockdown habits that maybe don’t serve us well, like that new-found baking obsession or the extra alcohol consumption.1

3. Prepare yourself for a changed working environment

Even when you do return, is your workplace going to look the same as it did before? Additional safety and hygiene measures will be in place, so it’s probably not going to feel like the familiar place it once did. Chats at the watercooler or sharing treats in the kitchen will likely be discouraged. And open-plan, collaborative environments will be a thing of the past, for a while at least. It may also be the case that not everyone is returning, and some will continue to work from home, which means a new dynamic and team rhythm to get used to.

“Change is one of the toughest things for many of us to accept and adapt to,” says Amy. “We have no control over the change or the people around us, only on how we deal with it all.” The key is recognising when we’re struggling with change and figuring out what we can do to adapt.

4. Know how to regulate your emotions

Amy advises that we can self-regulate to take control of our emotions. And it starts with identifying our triggers. She says these are “usually linked to an underlying belief or value that we hold to be true and important.” And once these have been identified, it’s easier to recognise when we’ve been triggered. “We are always feeling something, so it’s not a matter of switching off the emotion but rather deciding how to feel instead.”

Here’s a couple of tips from Amy:

1. Pause and take a deep breath. This will allow time to think about how we’re about to react and decide if we want to respond like that. What will the outcome be? Then choose which reaction will lead to the best outcome.

2. Know what triggers happiness, joy and calm in ourselves and introduce a little of this into your day. It might be getting some fresh air, eating your favourite food, calling a friend, pictures of your dog. If there is something simple that makes you happy, trigger that within the workday or stressful times.

5. Plan ahead to gain more control

While there are many uncontrollable elements when returning to the workplace after COVID-19, there are some things you can control.

So, before you head back, take time to think about your new workday schedule:

  • How will you get to and from work while maintaining physical distancing?
  • Will you need to allow more time if you’re taking the train or bus?
  • Research where you can park (and factor in the cost too) if you’re driving.
  • What will you eat? There’s no guarantee your favourite coffee spot or café is open, so maybe take lunch in with you.

Planning ahead will help you feel more prepared and hopefully less anxious.

6. Take it one day at a time

One thing to remember is, this is new to everyone. And everyone is going to respond differently. Don’t compare yourself to others. Even if it looks like someone is coping better than you, that’s not always the case. Amy says, “Our mind naturally struggles with the ‘unknown’ and not having control. Thinking too far forward opens us to unanswered questions and the ‘unknown’ of where COVID-19 will lead us, causing a spiral in our mindset.” Her advice is to think only as far as to where those answers can be provided, and by taking small steps, you’ll continue to make progress.

Expect that your feelings may change daily as you get used to a new normal. Taking it one day at a time can help you embrace the good days and cope with the not-so-good ones. Be kind to yourself and if you can, make time for self-care. Doing something you enjoy that’s just for you, can help you better manage your wellbeing as you adjust to post-COVID life.

Seeking professional help

While it’s normal to feel emotional upheaval during times of crisis and change, if you’re feeling continually anxious, or struggling to cope, there is help available. Many workplaces have an Employee Assistance Program you may be able to connect with. Speak to your HR department if you’re unsure. Alternatively, you can contact:

Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service - 1800 512 348

Lifeline - Phone: 13 11 14 (24 hours/7 days) or Text: 0477 13 11 14 (6pm – midnight AEDT, 7 nights)


More COVID-19 insights

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