Today, we’re sitting downー figuratively 🙂 ー with Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Private Practice Owner, Liz Yarock. Liz is a friend of Clarity (thank you for introducing us, Alex!), and will be joining our Team to present at our internal Mini Wellness Summit next month. In the meantime, we invited her to share professional advice with us here to help our Team and network with feelings of anxiety around around returning to physical workplaces. For many, working from home has been great. For others, however, it’s been rife with distraction and disproportionate challenges. Wherever you stand, and if you’re expected to set foot into the company walls again one day, these tips are designed to help you.
You can find Liz’s bio at the end of our Q&A. Now let’s dive into our questions!
Communications Team: What are the essential factors employees should recognize when facing a return to their office? Return to the office is a major life transition and women are twice as likely than men to experience anxiety in their lifetime, especially during life transitions. In the past year alone, Google searches soared for the terms anxiety, burnout, and stress. Just as the pandemic and lockdown itself affected everyone differently, there is no single standard for how employees will feel when returning in person to the office. If you’re feeling anxious, apprehensive, nervous, overwhelmed, or an overall mix of emotions about returning to work, you’re not alone and your feelings are absolutely valid. A February 2021 study by the APA (American Psychological Association) found that, “Americans are hesitant about the future, regardless of vaccination status. Nearly half of respondents (49%) said they feel uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction once the pandemic ends. Adults who received a COVID-19 vaccine were just as likely as those who had not received a vaccine to say this (48% vs. 49%, respectively).” When navigating the transition of returning to in-person work, it’s normal to experience a range of emotions about the various uncertainties and unknowns. I encourage you to remember that it takes time to develop a new sense of comfort and routine.
Communications Team: What are some coping tactics for employees if anxiety or fear flares up on your first day back? Feeling afraid is a very normal and essential part of the human experience. Fear is a survival instinct. In fact, when an anticipated danger is perceived, the brain signals the autonomic nervous system that controls our fight/flight/freeze response working to keep us safe. Anxiety and stress flood your nervous system with hormones and chemicals, which are helpful during an occasional high-stress event, but long-term exposure is problematic when we experience intense, excessive, and persistent worry regarding everyday situations with the absence of true danger, such as returning to work. Here are some tactics I recommend that are easy to get started with:
Relaxation Techniques Try practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing which helps down regulate your nervous system. While sitting in your chair practice inhaling into your stomach filling up your belly like a balloon for 4 seconds, holding for 2 second, and exhaling your breath slowly for 6 seconds. Other relaxation strategies include meditation, guided/safe space imagery, and the Emotional Freedom Technique-Tapping, to name a few. All of which promote the parasympathetic response in the nervous system, signaling to the brain that you are safe. For more ideas, feel free to check out my website under the resources tab.
Self-Compassion I encourage anyone returning to work to begin with a basic self-compassion practice. Self-compassion consists of three elements self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. With self-kindness, you begin by tuning into your own self-talk and speaking to yourself like someone you love. Common humanity is the second component to self-compassion and this is the practice of recognizing that everyone struggles in life and that difficulties are a normal part of the common human experience. Finally, mindfulness, the third component of self-compassion, is the practice of being open to the reality of the present moment, allowing all thoughts, emotions, and sensations to enter awareness without resistance or avoidance. Individuals that practice self-compassion are found to experience less anxiety, depression, stress, and shame and report greater life satisfaction and overall health benefits.
Challenge your thoughts Consider that thoughts are not facts and look for alternatives. The next time you feel anxious or start to feel overwhelmed, ask yourself “What is a different way of looking at this situation?” or “Is this thought 100% true or is there room for some other interpretation?” Unfortunately, humans are often hard-wired to get trapped in what is referred to as the negativity bias, the concept of paying more attention to the negative stimuli in a day such as criticism or something upsetting, rather than focusing on the positive. The next time something happens at work and you find your anxiety surfacing, before you go down a negativity spiral, ask yourself “What are three other ways to explain this situation?” or “Will this matter five years from now?” or “Is this thought helpful and what is the effect of telling myself this?”
If you find yourself continuing to struggle with symptoms of anxiety after applying these tactics, it can be helpful to speak to a cognitive behavioral therapist in order to develop a personalized treatment plan with tools and strategies to live a more peaceful, present, and joyful life.
Communications Team: What if a colleague is noticeably uncomfortable? Do you have an appropriate way or recommendation to offer support to that person? A useful way to support colleagues returning to work is to proactively discuss in advance what each employee’s unique burnout and stress symptoms look like and individually brainstorm what you might need in order to feel supported. If you can communicate to a trusted colleague the signs that may indicate you are struggling, it is more likely you will be supported when you need it most. A simple way to open up this dialogue is to ask, “How would I know you’re feeling overwhelmed/burnt out and what would be the best way to support you?” It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone will feel the same upon returning to work and that not everyone’s symptoms of mental distress manifest the same way or are overtly obvious. It’s useful to meet each other from a place of empathy and compassion. Communicating proactively and empathetically will create a work environment that promotes mental wellness.
Communications Team: How can management work to create safe spaces for employees that may be experiencing anxiety during this time? I think it’s clear that what the last year has taught us all, is the importance of prioritizing one’s mental health. Management can support the emotional well-being of its’ employees by encouraging and normalizing the practice of taking time off for mental health as well as practicing good work/life boundaries. One of the biggest contributors to burnout is a lack of a healthy work-life balance. It’s important that employees are supported in taking time off to reset and recharge as this helps promote productivity and reduce symptoms of stress and burnout. Management can also routinely check in with its’ employees to ask how the transition is going and respond in an empathetic and non-judgmental way.
Communications Team: Thank you for your helpful guidance and advice, Liz! As Team Clarity – as well as our candidates and clients — plan ahead to return to office life in varying degrees, this information will surely come in handy. To our readers, check out Liz’s website here, and let us know if you’d like a personal introduction!
Liz Yarock is both a New York and New Jersey Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and Private Psychotherapy Practice owner with over a decade of experience in the field. Liz attended Fordham’s Graduate School of Social Service and received her Masters in Clinical Social Work. Liz’s work is enriched by advanced trainings and diverse practice. She received a Post-Masters Certificate from NYU in Advanced Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a certification in child and teen mindfulness and yoga, training in the mind-body approach of Emotional Freedom Technique-Tapping, and she maintains over 6 years of a daily transcendental meditation practice. Liz’s clinical interests and specialties include the treatment of various mood disorders including anxiety and depression, life transitions, ADHD, relationships, highly sensitive persons, and empaths. Her practice is strongly informed by both evidence-based practices and self-compassionate techniques.