Are you prepared for the Unlock phase – Tips to balance stress and work for the new normal
The entire world is currently trying to find the right balance in taking measures to avoid the twin dangers of the spread of the virus versus those of economic collapse.
A lot of people have had to return to their workplace recently after a prolonged period of lockdown. Having to adjust to this ‘new normal’ is bound to be anxiety-provoking.
Some of the issues and challenges we face are:
- The current expected surge in cases and worries about exposure while commuting via public transport or at the workplace
- Fears regarding the adequacy of safety measures adopted by one’s employers
- Unfamiliar and sudden changes in the workplace and adapting to new ways of working
- The risk of carrying the infection back to one’s families
- Difficulties in arranging for safe and reliable child care or care of the elderly while one goes to work
- Financial difficulties and job uncertainties.
Preparing ourselves mentally, physically, socially, and professionally is crucial to face the difficult days ahead.
Firstly, it is important to recognize that everyone is in this together and each of us is having to adapt to a new way of life. We may have to learn to accept that there are going to be various kinds of inconveniences, limitations, and hardships. The uncertainty, unpredictability, and the real threat out there, is unusual and a source of constant stress.
Anxiety is something that can be useful if it is channelled the right way (helping us anticipate and prepare for difficulties) but if it is disproportionate/or excessive, it can be unhelpful and even harmful in the way it paralyzes you from carrying out crucial work.
Secondly, it is useful to understand a few things about anxiety. It has 2 aspects: STATE anxiety – which is clearly due to a given or new situation and TRAIT anxiety – which is a person’s ‘baseline’, reflecting their tendency to worry.
It is also useful to be aware of how negative thoughts can have a direct effect on our bodies. Negative thoughts lead to the release of certain stress hormones inside the body – a primitive and normal response to the threat. But, it is important to understand that often this threat is perceived in a magnified or exaggerated way. As a result, we may experience a lot of unnecessary physical discomfort – common symptoms are:
- Breathing difficulty
- Acidity and Stomach discomfort
- Muscle aches
- Numbness and tingling in your feet and hands
- Blurring of vision
- Dry throat, increased thirst
- Frequency in urination, etc.
Therefore, it would be useful to recognize the real cause for such symptoms and to avoid brooding about things which are beyond our control. It would be wiser to focus on problems that are in our control.
For e.g. – if there are worries about the workplace, you ought to clarify any doubts that you might have, suggest or speak up assertively if you notice anything wrong, especially those which can compromise safety.
Clear communication, good leadership, commitment, flexibility, being supportive to one another, finding new or creative solutions at the workplace, and a cohesive way of working together will help in dealing with the transition both for employers and employees alike.
Practical measures like creating a rota or working in shifts, using technology to continue to work without compromising on social distancing wherever possible, avoiding crowded areas, provision of sufficient and appropriate PPE, adequate disinfectants and hygienic areas to work in, encouraging hand hygiene, wearing of masks and other measures to contain the spread of the virus will be essential.
Where possible, E-learning is being used to familiarize everyone regarding the protocols adopted at the workplace and employees need to strictly adhere to this. Needless to say, it is vital that anyone feeling physically unwell should avoid going to work and remain at home.
Observing these strict practices and precautions and developing a ‘safety routine’ can minimize the risk of carrying any infection home:
- Use appropriate protective wear, especially masks, and taking care while removing or disposing of it
- Wash hands frequently and should follow good personal hygiene
- Maintain social distancing as far as possible. Avoid shaking hands and be cautious while touching things at high traffic areas like lifts, ATMs, etc.
- Try to avoid using cash or coins if possible
- Avoid carrying too many personal items to work and back home
- Wipe down surfaces that are touched often
- Handle, clean and dispose of unclean items safely
- Keep a dedicated area in one’s home where one can clean up once back home, etc.
- Where possible, avoid using public transport at rush hour
It may be useful to find out in advance about local policies about when and where you can find help in case you fall sick or if symptoms worsen. Most people are already aware that the elderly, those who have medical problems, and those who have poor immunity should preferably avoid going out as far as possible. If at all they do need to step out, do so only after taking advice from your regular physician.
Stress and anxiety can cause various physical, mental, and behavioural changes and it is important to recognize this in yourself and those around you. The symptoms and signs are:
- Difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep
- Constant negative rumination, feeling of dread
- Panic attacks (sudden bouts of fear accompanied by a rush of physical discomfort that can affect any part of the body as described above)
- Fatigue, lethargy and low motivation to work
- Poor concentration and loss of memory
- Mood changes like irritability, anger, and low mood
- Loss of appetite or weight
- Often people turn to drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes to cope with these problems. This can be harmful and counter-productive.
If you experience any of these changes to a significant degree, it is important to talk to someone who can be supportive or seek professional help if it is beginning to have an impact on your day to day functioning.
A few practical ways to help yourself when under stress are detailed below:
- Maintain good sleep hygiene – try to keep a regular schedule for all activities including sleep. Try to get at least 6 – 8 hours of sleep.
- Avoid tiring activities and using devices prior to bedtime or late into the night. Instead, find ways to wind down.
- Try to follow a schedule as close to the one you used to have prior to the start of the pandemic.
- Exercise regularly. Maintain a healthy, balanced, nutritious diet that is to be had at regular meal times.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and illicit drugs like cannabis, etc.
- Take regular short breaks at work, learn to relax through connecting with others while maintaining appropriate physical distance, practice mindfulness, and deep breathing exercises or yoga regularly, and especially before bedtime (there are many Youtube videos that may help).
- Be aware of the thoughts that enter your mind and try to stay in the present. One needs to get adept at identifying and discarding any unhelpful thoughts that might stray in. There are various online apps that can be of some aid.
- Speak to someone you trust if you feel overwhelmed by your thoughts and feelings. Sharing your concerns can help ease anxiety.
- Trying to focus on how to use your skills to help others in need or at your workplace can often lift one’s mood, be very soul-satisfying, and is a good tool to make yourself feel more in control of the situation. Finding a new purpose and meaning in your work, recognizing the value of your work can be a motivating factor and energize you.
- Putting aside time to do something relaxing like reading, listening to music, praying, cleaning, talking to your friends, spending time with your family, and pets or picking up an old hobby will go a long way in helping you cope with the stress.
- Try to lessen the time you spend on reading or watching the news, or on social media getting constant updates on COVID related news.
- And finally, stay productive and busy, optimistic, and hopeful.
This too shall pass.