If you are one of the lucky people who was able to work from home for the past fifteen months you are now likely to find yourself called back to the workplace. Don’t be surprised if you have mixed emotions about returning! Getting up, dressed and out of the house in the morning may be energizing, but everything from leaving pets and
sweatpants behind to being in commuter traffic can be aggravating and anxiety producing. Even if you’ve eagerly anticipated seeing work colleagues again, you may find in-person reunions less satisfying than you expected. You may even experience a curious emptiness in
relationships and activities you value. It may feel as if the whole pandemic year and its’ hard earned gains never happened. What on earth is going on?
Let’s admit that most of us have been imagining work re-entry for a long time. We’ve created so many images in our minds about how it will be, such as long, satisfying hugs and warm conversations, that the actual hugs and conversations may fall flat, especially at first. We may experience the same interpersonal tensions we used to brush off as minor annoyances now feel overwhelming. Because we are as yet unacclimated to the social environment we may have lost some of the “thickness of skin” we had pre-pandemic. A simple interaction with a work colleague can feel exhausting when for over a year you’ve dealt with so few people in person.
As you return to work, try to let go of your thoughts about what is happening and simply observe yourself feeling it. Take a step back and a deep breath and allow things to be as they are. Give yourself time to acclimate to the many changes time and experience has wrought on you and your world. Try not to listen to thoughts like, “I can’t do this anymore,” or “what is wrong with me?” Make sure you get time alone, quiet, lots of rest, light exercise, and keep returning to present moment. You will adjust to this change just as you adjusted to lockdown over a year ago.
The pandemic has changed us. We are all different and the world to which we are “returning” is also utterly changed. By being present moment to moment we can navigate around the many concepts that arise about what is different and why it is different. We do not have to figure this out, avoid it or become overly reactive to its irritations. We can be, notice, allow and soften. We can accept what is and find a place for our changed awareness in this constantly changing reality. It’s possible that accepting the isolation and loneliness we found so horrifying at the outset of the pandemic has borne fruit in increased comfort with solitude and a new emotional self-reliance we are only beginning to fully recognize. Let’s not lose these gains just because it’s time to go back to the office or to school.