Going back to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic is not a simple matter for most people regardless of how keen they are to get back to routine. Almost four months have passed since the hard lockdown began. Many have not stepped into their workplace or seen their co-workers for over three months. Along with the seasons, a lot has changed.

“If going back to work feels as daunting as it does a relief, you are not alone. On the one hand, you are happy to have a job to go back to, to get out of the house, get back to a routine and have a sense of normality. On the other hand, it is not the normal to which you are accustomed. So much has changed in a short period.

“Feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious can be directly linked to being thrown out of your comfort zone and forced to readjust constantly,” says Ilse de Beer, a psychologist at Ilse de Beer Psychology.

She says a lot of people have returned to workplaces that have been dramatically reshaped by the pandemic. They may have lost colleagues due to retrenchments or even COVID-19. Job insecurity and a loss of feeling of permanence can also contribute to anxiety. There might be additional stress arising from becoming responsible for a much bigger workload as a result. Seeing people suffering financially and emotionally after losing their jobs is also difficult for anyone with a heart.  This can cause people to feel guilty too.

“You could be experiencing a whirlwind of emotions, swinging between sheer gratitude and back to feeling overwhelmed. Remember, others share these feelings. You are not alone in this,” says De Beer.

She recommends taking control of matters that can be controlled. For instance;

  • Be organised at work and keep a good routine. This ensures that you work within a structure which directly contributes to your feeling of being in control.
  • Do not try to multitask. This will only deepen feelings of being overwhelmed and will have a negative impact on the quality of your work.
  • Set up a schedule and do one task at a time. Even small accomplishments at work will help you to feel capable and in control.
  • Make sure that you and your colleagues stick to the safety regulations. You will feel that you are doing what you can to stay healthy and help relay your fear of getting sick.
  • Keep balance in your life. Good eating, sleeping and exercise habits will have a positive effect on your ability to manage the pressures in the workplace.

Work colleagues can help each other to feel less overwhelmed by being available to one another.

“Help each other with tasks, lifts and standing in when someone needs to leave work early to tend to their children. Try to keep informal conversations light rather than homing in on the troubles. And, smile when you greet each other. Even if just one person in a group has a positive attitude, it can lighten the atmosphere and give hope.  These simple things can strengthen a sense of cohesion and limit feelings of isolation and despair.”

She advises employers and managers to communicate regularly with their staff and involve them in decision making and planning. Employees perform better if they know what needs to be done, what the company’s priorities are and what is expected of them. This will also help to lessen anxiety and feelings of being out of control.

“Try to create an atmosphere of ‘we are this together’ and that as a group you will get through this. This will help to create a sense of belonging and cohesion. Look out for people who are not coping well. When people feel overwhelmed, have unresolved issues or a build-up of emotions, they will battle to be positive or productive at work. If it is necessary, seek professional help.”

She concludes saying that people often underestimate their potential to impact someone else’s life.

“If you notice that someone is struggling, reach out. Helping some else to feel less isolated could help dispel your own feelings of isolation. If you know somebody who has lost their job or income, think about what you can do to support them. Remember, it is not only about money. Your time and input could help them more than you imagine.”

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