Work life after lockdown.
Updated: Sep 17, 2020
If you are feeling the impact of furlough or working from home taking its toll on your anxiety levels when thinking of returning to work after lockdown, you are not alone. Many of us have had the last 4 months either working very differently to the norm or not working at all on Furlough, so what happens now the government are starting to lift restrictions and encouraging people to make the transition back to the new ‘normal’ life? Some of you will have been anxious throughout the lockdown period, the pandemic, the unknown of what happens next, wondering if your jobs or businesses survive the closure or quiet period? Will you and your family stay safe whilst the virus is out there? And thinking now about how you feel about facing the workplace again. Some of you may have enjoyed your time taking a step back, maybe enjoying time with your family or even enjoyed your own company and not having to network or socialise as much as you are required to in general life, so your thoughts may be more focused on how you feel about getting back to working less flexibly or spending less time with your family. You may be facing redundancy, so looking at trawling the job market again and preparing for interviews and screenings. Whatever your situation, stress can be overwhelming and can show itself to us in many ways, some that you may not think of as stress reactions. When you feel threatened in any way your body’s response is to protect you, and your body’s way of defending itself is to switch in to fight or flight mode. This is when your body releases a mass of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, to set your body in to action, making your bloody pump faster, your breath quickens, and your senses sharpen to respond to the danger that it feels it is in. This is a great response if you are in imminent danger, if there is a threat stood in front of you that you need to either run or defend yourself from. The stresses that you are facing however, aren’t the same as being faced with a life or death situation and can gradually build up over time, and the more you think about your stresses the more that trigger sets and you can’t shut off from that state of feeling ready to pounce. How stress can often show itself. Mood Stress can affect the way you feel, a constantly worrying could make you moody or angry a lot of the time. Feeling overwhelmed and anxious or sad and unable to function as you would normally. You may have a quick temper with people around you that you don’t normally have or overreact to situations where that response wasn’t needed. All of these can also indicate too much stress in your life. Pain Often when stressed, you start to feel tension in your body due to that fight or flight response causing the muscles to tighten up, to protect them from injury. This can cause you headaches, back and shoulder pain and aches all around the body. Sleep problems You may find yourself sleeping to much or not enough. When you are stressed it often impacts your sleep patterns, both the quality and the quantity of sleep that you get. Experts say that if you don’t have a good quality 7-9 hours of sleep each night, it can have a detrimental effect on your mental and physical health. Digestion problems Scientists have shown that there is a strong connection between your digestive tracts and brains, so when you experience stress it can also interfere with your digestion. This can cause issues such as IBS, cramps, diarrhoea, constipation or an increase or decrease in appetite.
Memory and thinking problems This can often be called brain fog; and it can occur when excessive amounts of fear or stress affects your nervous system, and that in turn means that it has an impact on basic functions like memory or learning. How can you make yourself feel better? The way you think. Negative thinking causes anxiety to spiral out of control and we are all guilty of doing this at one time or another. If you think back to before Covid it is easy to negatively recall events at work, thinking about how awful the commute was, how long the days were, even maybe thinking about the people you work with as unsupportive or worse. Thinking ahead and forecasting the future negatively, how you’ll never be able to keep up with the demands of the job now, how you feel you aren’t capable of hitting the targets you’re set, you may be thinking about how you will never be able to face the commute or the customers, or even thinking you’ll never get another job after facing redundancy. All of these thoughts – if you tell yourself enough will become your reality. Negative thinking not only distorts your thoughts but also can become quite obsessional. In order for you to tame these thoughts and reduce the amount of negative self-talk you do you need to identify what this inner voice is telling you. You can then begin to spin these around to shine a positive light on the way you talk to yourself. When a thought comes into your mind, push it out and turn it in to a positive, realistic sentence. For example; “I will never get another job” can be turned in to “I will be able to find a new job by working hard to look for one and researching the companies I interview for” then keep telling yourself this, the more that you reinforce the positive thoughts the more you will find that it improves your mood and ability to start to tackle the actual situation itself. You are effectively training your brain to think in a different way when the negative thoughts appear. Goal setting. It may feel like you have a mountain to climb with your current situation, but regardless as to how high you need to climb, you need to break it down in to bite size chunks or you’ll be overwhelmed at the task ahead. If you are worrying about how you will cope with the workload when you return to the workplace, break down the work, if you feel that it is an unrealistic amount, think about talking to your manager to establish if there is flexibility on moving the deadlines back or if there are any pieces of work that can be delegated to others in your team. If you have a big goal to hit it can feel like you’re never going to achieve it – or it can feel that you don’t even have the energy to start. If you hit any obstacles on the way it can also feel like you are defeated part way through. However, if you broke the big goal up in to small achievable steps, then you can easily focus on each smaller hurdle at a time, making it a lot more realistic to hit and when you do you will feel a huge sense of achievement – getting closer to the end goal in positive steps. This will also help keep your focus and stop you feeling overwhelmed. Relax. Stress can hit hard and when your mind is bombarded with it non-stop, it can be exhausting, so you must ensure that you take some time out of each day to relax and practice some self-care. Whatever this may look like for you, try to find something that you can take your mind off the issues you are facing and calm your mind. Meditation is a great way to calm the mind, as it concentrates on getting you in to the here and now and stop your mind drifting. Other ways of doing this could be taking a nice relaxing bath, listening to music, watching your favourite tv show, call or catch up with a friend. All of these can be the time out that you need each day, it allows our mind to think clearer and calmer, helping your concentration, decision making and all of that positive thinking that you will be doing as well as easing tension in the muscles for all those aches and pains you may be feeling. Eat Well. It can be really tempting to reach for the junk when we feel stressed, in fact when stressed bodies release certain chemicals like cortisol which in turn makes you crave the fat and sugar that we find in junk and convenience food. This can then be a bit of a catch 22 situation as the more stress you feel the more likely you are to pile on the pounds and feel bad from the rubbish that is being consumed. Quite often thirst is mistaken for hunger so it is easy to reach for the cookies rather than hydrating with a refreshing drink, so it can be worth reaching for a few big glugs of water before giving in to the snacks.
Eating well through stress can however cut the levels of the cortisol that stress brings, strengthening the immune system and reducing blood pressure and helping improve your overall mood. If you can’t control your snacking, maybe you need to look at getting rid of the fatty, sugary foods from your cupboards and replacing them with healthier alternatives – that way when you get the urge to reach for the snacks – at least you know they’re good for you both physically and mentally.
If you are feeling stressed you may feel like this is a tall order – getting yourself in a motivated enough place to don the sweat pants and get out for a run, cycle or even close all the curtains and attempt a Joe Wicks PE session without your neighbours seeing – it can feel like you’re up against that mountain again. Exercise however produces endorphins, which are chemicals in your brain that act like natural painkillers and make you feel good. It can also improve your sleep both getting to sleep and the quality of the sleep, it can increase your confidence levels and help ease your stress levels. The other great benefit of exercise is that is isn’t just a mental workout that you get, the physical benefits of weight loss, muscle gain and increase in energy levels will help to make you feel much happier. If exercise is new to you, make sure you don’t overdo it to start and always stretch out at the beginning and end of your workouts, seek advice, grab a personal trainer or ask good old google for some tips on starting to workout.
Brains are easily tricked in to thinking positive – and positivity is the way to bring yourself out of the feelings you may be experiencing. So try to take the control back of your thoughts and push yourself to attempt some or all of the suggestions above and see if you can turn your anxiety in to positivity and start to feel good about what the future holds… “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” William James (American philosopher and psychologist)
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