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Back to Work and School, Back to Anxiety

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Millions of people have received vaccinations against SARS-CoV-2 and its variants in an effort to prevent contracting and spreading COVID-19. That could mean that millions of people may be returning to work or school soon or may have done so already.

Even with such returns, things might not be back to normal. People might still be struggling with changes and the anxiety they could bring.

Why are people anxious?

Anxiety lingers in part because the pandemic isn’t over. As variants of the virus circulate, people can still catch them, become extremely sick, and spread COVID-19 to others. It appears that variants spread more easily and could make people sicker than the original virus.

A return to in-person school or work would likely place people into physical contact with coworkers or classmates. They would probably be seeing more people than they’ve been used to seeing.

People might worry about catching the virus or its variants from this increased contact, especially if their workplaces or schools aren’t enacting safety measures such as requiring masks or practicing social distancing. They might worry that even if they don’t get sick, they could still contract the virus or its variants and pass them along to others.

What other types of anxiety have we been facing?

For many of us since the start of 2020, anxiety is nothing new. We’ve been afraid of the virus and its variants and what they can do – and what they have done. Such fear is understandable when facing something that has sickened and killed millions.

Other factors have fueled fear and anxiety. The pandemic didn’t just change one aspect of our lives, but several. We’ve made constant changes while doing and thinking things we’ve never done and thought before. We don’t know exactly what the future will bring, and uncertainty and unpredictability can lead to anxiety.

Returning to “normal” may produce fear and anxiety because we might worry that it won’t be the same normal as before. We might wonder what exactly normal is and whether we’re ever going to reach anything approaching that state again. Finally, even if things return to how they were before the pandemic, we might not be the same ourselves.

What does anxiety look and feel like?

Nervous about returning to school or work, people might experience various symptoms of anxiety, which may include:

  • Physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, a rapid or pounding heartbeat, unexplained pain, or dizziness.
  • Mental symptoms such as uncontrollable, anxious beliefs or thoughts, or worries that people dwell on despite efforts not to think of them.
  • Behavioral symptoms such as avoiding people, places, or activities.

Such symptoms could harm people’s quality of life. It could affect their ability to learn and work productively.

How can anxiety affect performance?

Prolonged anxiety can affect job or school performance in various ways. Anxiety can make people:

  • Angry, impatient, and irritable because they’re annoyed, uncomfortable, and not feeling like themselves.
  • Unfocused and disengaged because they’re busy dealing with their anxiety.
  • Think negative thoughts and fear failure.
  • Avoid social interactions that could enhance their professional or academic careers.

An anxious student might be nervous about participating in group presentations in front of his or her classmates. An anxious worker might not contribute ideas in a meeting. Such reluctance might affect group dynamics and individual performance. It could keep people from trying new things and improving their lives.

How can anxiety be positive?

Despite the challenges it can pose, anxiety can also be positive. For one, it can make us aware of potential danger. When our brains enter a fight or flight mode, we might be more ready to address threats.

Furthermore, anxiety can help us understand what we value. If we’re anxious about something, it illustrates that we care about it. Investigating why we care about it can help us examine why we do things and what we want to do in the future.

Finally, we can channel our anxiety for positive ends. If we’re worried about something, anxiety might spur us to do something about it, if only to get our minds off our worries. Unchanneled anxiety can hurt our performance at work or school, but selectively addressing such concerns can improve it.

How can we fight anxiety?

Keeping busy is a good way to fight anxiety. This doesn’t mean piling things on a to-do list just to be busy for busy’s sake. Instead, it’s focusing on doing intentional things to try to reduce anxiety and fear.

If people are worried about returning to work or school and contracting COVID-19, they could take action. They might want to ask their supervisors or school district if they can continue working at home or attending school online. They can point to successfully completed projects and assignments to prove how productive they’ve been working or studying from home.

But if staying online isn’t an option, people might take steps to make their returns to work or school more comfortable and less stressful. They might receive vaccinations, buy masks and other protective gear, and ask to distance their desks or workspaces from others.

Taking definite action can help put people’s minds at ease. So can examining why they’re anxious.

Mental health providers can help with this examination. By working with a therapist or other mental health professional, people can determine the source or sources of their worries and whether certain conditions trigger their anxiety and fears.

Then, professionals can work with clients to develop ways to fight this anxiety. Tactics could include using breathing exercises or creating soothing routines.

Anxiety and fear are, well, scary, but they’re fears that people don’t have to face alone. Even if physically returning to classrooms or boardrooms causes concern, experienced professionals can help people address their worries and adjust to a new normal, whatever that new normal may be.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the author: Pamela Zuber is a writer and editor with Sunshine Behavioral Health who is interested in physical and mental health, addiction and recovery, gender issues, human rights, and other topics.


Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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