Many people have been working remotely or temporarily relocated during COVID-19 and our social interactions face to face have also decreased considerably. However, as restrictions ease in most states, businesses have started to bring more staff back into their workplaces and social occasions are starting to creep back in.
Given the instructions to stay at home and socially distance, it is normal to feel a bit anxious about returning to the workplace or social occasions. As our routines change, people adapt. Many people will have gotten used to less activity and lessening the pressure we put on ourselves to engage with the community.
Some level of anxiety can be useful as it reminds us to maintain positive behavioural changes that help prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as hand washing and disinfecting our workstations. But what if your anxiety becomes excessive, to the point that you begin to avoid work and other important commitments?
There are three simple things you can do to help manage anxiety.
1. Choose your news sources wisely
First, try limiting the amount of news you watch.
While it’s important to stay informed, studies have found that watching a lot of news during a pandemic can result in higher levels of anxiety. There is also some evidence that where you get your information matters.
Reading non‐official information can cause further, and often unnecessary, anxiety and panic. The best advice is to make sure you are getting information from reputable sources from the Australian Government Department of Health. They also offer guidance on hygiene and physical distancing at work.
2. Keep Your Fears in Perspective
When we are experiencing anxiety, we often let our thoughts run away to worst case scenarios. We might exaggerate the risk of a negative situation and forget to consider a much more likely positive outcome. Such thoughts are known as “cognitive distortions”.
Cognitive distortions may play out in various ways. For example, you may “catastrophise” by expecting the very worst possible outcome. You may also “overgeneralise” or expect a single bad outcome to be representative of all future outcomes.
If you find yourself having such thoughts, consider the evidence for and against your thoughts. Sometimes, just acknowledging that you may be exaggerating a risk is enough to keep it in perspective.
3. Reach out
Finally, if you, or someone you know is feeling significant anxiety about the situation, talking to someone can help. Whether that be a friend or family member, or a professional, discussing your concerns often keeps things in perspective.
It's important to stay vigilant about returning to work during COVID-19. But it shouldn’t feel overwhelming.
There are many avenues for people to seek additional support.
In your workplace, this might include line managers, the HR and safety teams. If your employer offers an EAP (Employee Assistance Program), make use of the free counselling service.
If you’re continuing to experience anxiety that prevents you from work or other things you value and normally enjoy (like meeting up with friends), try some of these resources:
Headspace: Tips to maintain a healthy headspace during COVID-19
Beyond Blue: Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service
Lifeline: Mental health and wellbeing during the Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak
MAX: Staying Positive and Managing your Mental Health
MAX: The difference between anxiety and stress
- Rubin, G. J., Amlot, R., Page, L., & Wessely, S. (2009). Public perceptions, anxiety, and behaviour change in relation to the swine flu outbreak: Cross sectional telephone survey. BMJ, 339, b2651
- Taha, S, Matheson, K, Cronin, T. & Anisman, H. (2014). Intolerance of uncertainty, appraisals, coping, and anxiety: The case of the 2009 H 1N 1 pandemic. Br J Health Psychol. Sep;19(3):592-605
- Shah, K., Dhwani, K, Hema, M, Birinder, M. (2020). Focus on Mental Health During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic: Applying Learnings from the Past Outbreaks. Palo Alto; 12 (3).
- Van den Bulck, J. and Custers, K. (2009). Television exposure is related to fear of avian flu, an Ecological Study across 23 member states of the European Union. European Journal of Public Health. 19 (4)
- Johal, S. S. (2009). Psychosocial impacts of quarantine during disease outbreaks and interventions that may help to relieve strain. The New Zealand Medical Journal, 122(1296), 47–52.
- Beck, A. T. (1976). Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. New York: International Universities Press.https://au.reachout.com/articles/7-tips-for-dealing-with-change.