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Health & Medicine

Feeling Anxious About The 'Return to Normal'? You're Not Alone

Virus Outbreak Israel
Ariel Schalit/AP
People work at a digital task force to counter "fake news" on the Internet, in the Health Ministry office near Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021. After racing to a quick start, Israel is blaming online misinformation for a sudden slowdown in its campaign to vaccinate its adult population. Israel's Health Ministry, which is spearheading the vaccination efforts, is employing both carrots and sticks as it tries to persuade reluctant holdouts to get immunized. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

As COVID-19 restrictions are finally rolling back, things like working in the office or eating out with friends are becoming commonplace again. But that's causing anxiety for some.

Tim Shelley talks with Erin Osborn, a clinical coordinator for the behavioral health service line at UnityPoint Health.

ERIN OSBORN: I would definitely say for the past year, we have been living in a state of uncertainty and prolonged stress with the pandemic, right?

Our lives completely changed in March 2020. And we've become accustomed to sort of this new normal over this past year, which included working from home. We are engaging in smaller social circles, shunning physical contact, and attempting to stay six feet away. And now we have a new set of changes coming, which is going back to work if you were out of the office, or going to crowded restaurants or sitting in a group of friends, again, at a party. And so in a sense, we have to relearn to kind of walk all over again. We're not sure what it'll feel like those things have been 'dangerous' over this last year.

So it makes sense that we're anxious about this. And what's important to know is that anxiety is totally a normal response, a survival instinct. We experience symptoms of anxiety, such as like racing thoughts, elevated physiological responses, you know, planning forever, every negative outcome. And so, you know, we just need to learn to manage this better, so that it doesn't become problematic and interrupt our daily lives. And so that's sort of the themes that I have been seeing.

TIM SHELLEY: And you mentioned returning to work. A lot of people, especially those who work in office settings, have been working remotely since March 2020. But now we're starting to hear from, you know, bosses and CEOs, it's time to think about returning back to the office in some capacity. So I guess my question would be double faceted. What do you say to the employees who are maybe anxious about that, after all these months and months? And what do you say to the employers who need to make sure that their employees feel comfortable and safe in this environment again?

ERIN OSBORN: Well, there's a couple things that I would definitely recommend. Number one is, remember, there's no right or wrong way to feel. I think it's important to be kind to ourselves if we're having mixed feelings and to accept those feelings of anxiety when they bubble up versus fighting them.

And so when you recognize that they're there, then you can start to work through them and think about what are your comfort levels. That would kind of be my second recommendation. You might find yourself getting invited to more, you know, meetings or social gatherings. And it's important to think about your comfort level and prioritize the activities so that you feel safe, and you're not over committing yourself, right?

TIM SHELLEY: Would you say it's better to try to ease yourself back in versus jumping in the pool, so to speak?

ERIN OSBORN: 100%. 100%. I think you need to develop what makes sense for you (to) preserve your sense of self, increase your awareness and communicate your boundaries, but you should go slow. I know there's this sort of "get back into it right away" (mentality). But I would say, you know, baby steps. Trust yourself. Communicate your boundaries, set clear expectations, ask for what you need, and don't overextend yourself, are some things that I would really recommend.

TIM SHELLEY: Erin, any other advice or comments or anything you want to share?

ERIN OSBORN: Well, what I would say is that, you know, (look for) signs that it might be time for professional help. Because this is usually the question I get the most is, when your anxiety and distress is at a level that impacts your functioning, whether it in its in relationships, performance at work, or your overall sense of well being.

Some key indicators would be like irritability, overly jumpy, easily frustrated, conflicts in your relationship, lashing out. If you're experiencing any of those things, it may be best to get some sort of intervention. Those are signs that maybe you're not handling the re-entry the best way.

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