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For Many, Returning to Work May Bring New Worries

  • June 12, 2020
  • Anxiety, Patients and Families

As restrictions guarding against COVID-19 infection are easing, and people begin getting back into the community and work, some people will be ready to go, others may be much more hesitant.

While things are opening up, there are still many unknowns, such as how long it will take for things to get back to ‘normal,’ and whether we’ll have setbacks along the way. As one recent news story put it, “for many people, FOMO [fear of missing out] may have been replaced by FOGO — a.k.a. the fear of going out.”1 And spending a few minutes at a store or walking in a park may feel very different than returning to eight hours in close quarters at an office or other workplace.

A recent survey found that 60% of office workers say they are likely or very likely to return to the office when they have the option to do so.2 That still leaves many workers who are hesitant. The biggest concern about returning, raised by more than one-third of survey respondents, was “others in my office will behave in a way that puts me in danger.” Fewer, 19%, were most concerned with lack of safety measures by their employer, and about one in four (26%) said they had no concerns at all about returning to the office. People who commute using public transit were much more reluctant to return to work than those who don’t.

Another survey identified the top things employees are looking for from their employers as they return to work: personal protective equipment (56%);  to be informed immediately when a colleague has tested positive for COVID-19 (51%); for customers to follow safety and hygiene protocols when they are onsite (51%); and clear protocol if someone is infected (49%).3

While everyone’s situation, perspective and feelings will be different, suggestions from mental health professionals on coping with the uncertainties and anxieties include recognizing that being anxious is normal. People need to accept the uncertainty and that there will be some risk as we return to work and other activities. Be aware of current public health recommendations and take action where you can. Also, just as with coping with other stressful situations, overall self-care can help—exercising, getting enough sleep, taking time to relax and healthy eating.

While most people will manage concerns about transitions back to work, if you or someone you know is feeling especially anxious or distressed, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. Therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can be helpful in managing anxiety. “Don’t forget about your organization’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP),” suggests Darcy Gruttadaro, J.D. Director, Center for Workplace Mental Health, American Psychiatric Association Foundation. “The EAP is there to provide support and a connection to clinical care when needed.”

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