Job-related stress has been an issue for many Ohioans who have been working through the pandemic. And now, those who are starting to return to work as the state slowly reopens may find themselves feeling anxious or afraid to return to society after weeks of isolating at home.
According to Maggi Ault, licensed independent social worker and supervisor for the Guernsey Allwell Behavioral Health Center, it’s not only OK to feel anxious or afraid, but it’s normal.
"Just the nature of everything going on in the community and everything we are hearing in the news, it’s definitely that everybody would be feeling stressed and anxious," Ault said.
Ault advises talking to other people about the stress and anxiety instead of keeping that worry bottled up. She also advised that maybe taking breaks from the news and doing things to maintain one’s health such as taking care of their bodies, taking extra breaths, meditation, and eating healthy to help lessen the effects of stress and anxiety.
"First and foremost, I think it’s definitely important that you take care of yourself," Ault said. "So you take the extra breaths, pay attention to your body and know when you are feeling the symptoms of stress. Just take time to put coping skills into place and do activities that you enjoy."
Fears about going to work or going back to work aren’t indicative of a panic or mental health disorder. According to Ault, it’s just a body’s way of reacting to a stressful situation. Ault suggests talking to other people such as co-workers, who are going through the same emotions, or a supervisor about any fears or anxieties and to seek professional help if you feel you need it.
Allwell has a COVID-19 stress phone line that people can call to get advice whether what they’re feeling is a normal reaction or if they feel professional help is needed. The stress line is in place to help people sort through their feelings and and to offer tips that could help them deal with the stress and anxiety. The stress line number is 740-432-2377.
Many who have been laid off or are working from home during the state shut-down may have experienced a lapse in the structured routine that may have when going into work. Some may have found a freedom in that lapse of daily structure and other may feel a need for it. For others, the thought of going back to a daily routine could be stress inducing.
"Sometimes people want structure and want that routine in their lives so some people embrace that," Ault said. "I know that some of the people I talk to just want to get back to some kind of new normal and figure out what that new normal is. Some people will bounce back and will have no problems and other people will have a mix of emotions and have that increased stress and anxiety."
Ault suggests that for many who are returning to work, whether it’s next week or three weeks from now, the sooner they get back to a structured routine the better the transition from home to work will be.
"Look at it as when getting kids ready to go back to school after the summer break," Ault said. "Parents take a couple of weeks, maybe, to get them back into that routine, so i think the sooner the better. I think that routine and structure is important for everybody so if we can keep that in our life now to prepare for everything coming up in the next month, I think that it will be a better transition."
Sleep is also important during this time, too.
"If you have not established a sleep routine of going to bed and getting up at the same time, the sooner the better to put that back into place," Ault said. "That way when you go back into your job you are not extra tired from staying up all night or not being in a sleep routine."
If you are feeling anxious at work, Ault says, try some relaxation techniques and do a positive self talk where you tell yourself that you are going to get through it and and it’s going to be OK, instead of thinking negatively.
Ault also pointed out that going back to work for many will be a relief from financial burdens and it would be normal to bounce back and forth between emotions of relief and fear or anxiety.
For many, there will be changes, some occurring possibly daily at their jobs. During these times of change, communication is going to be critical, Ault said.
"As a supervisor, I make myself readily available to other people," Ault said. "So as supervisors I think it’s important that we take the time to check on our employees; take the extra time to practice self care for ourselves, because if we take the situation and model for our employees, the employees are going to make the transition better."