Has remote working caused a lack of creativity or depression? Experts offer advice on how to deal with work anxiety as workplaces start to open.
As the world plans for a future post-Covid-19, and the Middle East set to re-open commerce, with places like Dubai allowing public and private sector employees back into the office at 100% capacity, there are mixed feelings about the easing of lockdown.
Some have experienced loneliness and a grueling three-months of lockdown, while others have embraced the restrictions – it’s been a chance to spend time with their families, learn new skills and take a breather from a faster pace of life. But will our lives ever return to ‘normal’?
“The negative impact of Covid-19 on mental health is pretty undisputed across the entire world,” explains clinical psychologist Dr Lynne Green from digital mental health provider Xenzone. “If we are expecting a return to work and ‘normality’ to reverse this, we had better think again,” she continues. “First of all, any definition of ‘normality’ has gone out of the window; we just don’t know what is around the corner and therein lies the problem.”
Dr Green puts these worries down to a fear of the unknown and lack of control, both of which can lead to mental health difficulties like anxiety and depression. When it comes to coronavirus, this is coupled with health-related anxiety. “For many, the easing of lockdown rules will be perceived as premature and will only serve to exacerbate worries about germs, illness and ultimately death,” says Green.
Lockdown has been different for everyone explains NLP coach Dido Fischer, from Intuitive Leadership, “We’ve created these new cultures overnight, what we don’t know is what people’s lockdown experiences have been.”
TV therapist and author of Pro-Active Parenting, Mandy Saligari, believes there are two types of behaviors in lockdown: conform or defy. Both are all or nothing behaviors. “You have the people who hate their isolation and have had a really tough time of it, they reject it, they are in yearning, they can’t bear it, they feel uncomfortable and they feel anxious and they can not wait for lockdown to finish,” says Saligari, “or you have people who completely adapt and give up on the yearning, they just comply with circumstance and completely commit to the isolation.”
Karolina Ba was excited at the prospect of working from home during lockdown, she wouldn’t have to commute and would have more time to do the things she likes. “It was surprisingly easy for me,” says Ba, who runs healthy living company Theenk Tea. “I am more productive, creative, and much more comfortable than when working from the office. I’ve developed a daily routine where I wake up around 8am, do yoga and meditate and then move on to work for a few hours before I have my breakfast – I was never able to do that before lockdown.”
Those comfortable with working from home will likely feel anxious at the prospect of returning to work, says Saligari. “They will be asking do I really want to go back? What’s it going to be like, can I do my job? There will be all sorts of esteem issues.”
Ba agrees, “I’m most anxious about having to go back to the office, start conducting meetings face to face, and in general having so much less time. I got used to attending networking events, meetings and masterclasses over video, and I can’t remember how I ever had the time to do all that before lockdown! Another thing I’m anxious about is going back to social life. Lockdown practically eliminated my FOMO and the pressure to do things even if I don’t exactly feel like it. I think lockdown was a blessing in disguise.”
Meanwhile, the people complaining about lockdown will be keen to get back to work, explains Saligari, “they will busy themselves, they will probably be tired and experience irritation, impatience, frustration and they are likely to act very quickly on the things that have been outstanding, getting right back in touch with customers and those kinds of behaviors.”
Marketing consultant Samar Kawsarani* has found social lockdown hard, “I missed seeing people hugely. It was a really lonely experience and I found myself ruminating and worrying more,” she says, “I found myself going to the supermarket just to interact with other humans and have conversations, and I was calling friends and family almost every night. I’m looking forward to lockdown easing. It will be great to be back in the office and to hug friends, go to the mall, and socialize more freely, as long as that can be done safely.”
Saligari outlines two main pieces of advice for returning to work after lockdown. “The people who felt frustrated and irritated with lockdown will need to slow down, calm down, and become more manageable. Do not rush headlong into catching up, make poor decisions or upset anyone. Talk with managers, peers, and colleagues and agree on relaunching a business strategy.” she says. “The others need to understand that their anxiousness to return to work is a false message, what they need to do is prepare, to accept that lockdown is coming to an end and start making contact with colleagues prior to the return to work. Start those conversations, plan those journeys, decide what to wear, tidy your home, and start letting go of the sanctuary of home in preparation for accepting real life. Because real life is not all or nothing. Real-life is a mish-mash of the middle ground over which we have very little control.”
Coach Fischer outlines some very practical tips we can all do before returning to work to reduce anxiety. These include setting the framework for your daily routine and doing a physical rehearsal, “Try on your clothes, get your outfit ready, set your alarm clock, and remember that side of yourself. Also, do a mental rehearsal. Think about when you go to work, ask who do I say hello to? And how do I want it to be? How do I stay safe?” she says, “you’re re-triggering neural pathways, which are already very imbedded in you”.
Some will face larger challenges, like parents negotiating e-learning for their kids as they are returning to work, but we will find a way to adapt, believes Green. “As a mother of three, I am only too familiar with the challenges of trying to maintain standards at work whilst trying to motivate ‘not so’ motivated children to keep up to date with schoolwork at home,” she says. Her tips for being more resilient include: “Talking about it; identifying someone who got through it as opposed became a victim of it; finding some positive meaning from it; helping others through it and having a positive belief that you can and will cope.”
There’s inevitably going to be a period of acclimatizing, says Fischer but “we’re infinitely adaptable and infinitely flexible,” she says. Saligari predicts it will only take a couple of weeks to get back to our work patterns, rhythms, and routines. “There will be people struggling to get up, there will be a lot of people who are late, and a lot of unmanageable people out of sink with what they’re doing, plus people feeling ashamed of the weight they’ve put on, people resentful of sitting at a desk when they could be doing more exercise, all of those things are going to be interrupted by normal work life. But ‘normal’ work-life will prevail.”
*Name has been changed.