A few nights before she had to return to work after nearly three months of work from home (WFH), 31-year-old Sharjah resident Zara Batool Ali felt her anxiety levels shoot up. She had been looking forward to getting back to the routines of her life pre-Covid, but now that it was actually time to, she couldn’t shake off the trepidation and unease. Her excitement at returning to her career as a credit controller in a Canadian firm, and face-to-face meetings that made work more enjoyable, were countered by her fears about the spread of a little-understood virus. Days later, her fears had not abated.
“Our workplace gave us the flexibility of dipping our toes in a few times; I started with going to work twice a week, making the transition from home to office slowly,” she says. “While it was great catching up with colleagues after the long WFH period, the real scare was returning home to my family, especially the vulnerable ones – a little sister who has Down’s Syndrome, and my parents who are over 60.
“I guess I’d gotten used to life indoors, so much so that I found myself in a loop of uncontrollable worry – apprehensive every time I had to step out the door, constant worry for all my loved ones’ safety.” Zara wondered how she would balance her career that included meeting people while maintaining both her physical and mental health, and that of her family’s when she returned home. “The stress of the uncertainty was eating into me,” she says.
It’s a fear and concern many of us who prepare to return to work or normal routines may be experiencing. But the good news is that it can be tackled.
This worry stems from the fact that the things we’ve taken for granted in the past, such as the freedom to be close to others without thinking about it, have been upended, says Russell Hemmings. “In fact, in a cruel twist, that closeness to others has become a potential source of anxiety, associated with a risk to health. No wonder so many of us will be feeling that anxiety right now,” says the Dubai-based life coach and cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist, and author of The Mind Diet and Active Positive Parenting (russellhemmings.co.uk).
So, how can Zara and the rest of us cope with a return to our previous lives? Russell offers some tips.
1. Take things slowly
Don’t be tempted to overwhelm yourself. We’ve all been somewhat cocooned away from normality. After being shut away for so long, it’s natural to want to throw yourself back into things, but tentatively ease into the new regular acclimatising yourself. It can’t be denied that under lockdown the world was a much quieter, calmer place and many of us have benefitted from that peace. To suddenly go from 0-100 might be difficult, so keep it simple and don’t do too much too soon.
2. Plan ahead
Know this – you are resilient and with careful planning you can manage it. By controlling the controllable, and setting the limits that feel right for you personally, you can gradually ease your way into a space where you begin to feel comfortable with the ‘new normal’.
3. New habits
While the lockdown took much away, it did give many of us the time to think and re-evaluate. Because this has been a health-driven crisis, it has given us the opportunity to think about our own health and motivated many to take their physical and mental well-being more seriously. If you have formed new exercise and nutritional regimes, if you have felt the benefits of cutting some stress out of your life, keep it up. It is difficult to form new habits, but dark clouds do sometimes have silver linings and if becoming healthier has been one of them, then stick with it.
4. Step into change
This has been a seminal point in all of our lives – take time to consider how it has impacted you personally. What have you learned about yourself and the life you were leading? Ask yourself searching questions. There may be fundamental things you want to change. See it as an opportunity to review. Give some thought to the new world we are emerging into and how you are going to slot your life into it. What might the future look like for you personally and on a global level? The most dynamic and flexible of us will try to imagine what changes will be required to rise to the challenge.
The world has changed. And while we are entitled to mourn the loss of the old one, we do have to come to terms with a new way of life. The good news is that we humans are highly adaptable. Moving forward, we must aim to maintain our optimism and hope. One of the best ways to do that is to magnify the positives. Sometimes we’re guilty of dwelling on downsides, but by reframing, you can always galvanise yourself to see things in a more hopeful way. Just thinking of how far we’ve come by working together in a short space of time, just thinking of the technological and scientific progress we are making, should spur us on and give each of us the courage to keep going.