Emily Snow, LMSW MHSA, Director of Behavioral Health Initiatives, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City
Right now, many people feel confused, worried, and apprehensive about the changes going on around them. From August 2020 to February 2021, the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder increased from 36.4% to 41.5%, and the percentage of those reporting an unmet mental health care need increased from 9.2% to 11.7% (CDC, 2021). Many people have trepidation about returning to work with a mix of concerns. Some are fearful about infection, particularly if they are older or have a disability. Others have pre-existing social anxiety and have lost their stamina to interact with many people every day. Here, we provide some tips on how to ease the return to the workplace.
Talk and connect: It is so important to keep the lines of communication open between you, your coworkers, and your supervisor. We have all been impacted by the coronavirus in different ways. You may have lost a loved one, ended a relationship or friendship or felt overwhelmed, isolated, or unwell. If you share this with others, they will be better able to help you in the months ahead. Take breaks from work to stretch or check in with your co-workers.
Have a return-to-work conversation with your supervisor: This is a chance to identify your work priorities and raise concerns and questions you may have. This is also the time to discuss flexibility with your supervisor. You could ask to transition back into the office gradually, starting with half days. Or you can request a hybrid or work from home arrangement if it is appropriate for your role.
Plan and prepare: Think about your work and your situation. Does anything need to change to help you be successful upon your return to work. If you have not been told what to expect, ask what provisions and changes have been made to create a safe work environment. It can even be helpful to do a few trial runs and visit your workplace without having to work. Often the anticipation of what is going to happen is worse than being there. Putting yourself in the situation you are anticipating can help you learn to use skills to reduce anxiety.
Embrace the return-to-work structure: if you can, try to get into your work routine at home before physically returning. Get a good night’s rest. Wake up at the normal time, get bathed and dressed as you would normally, and try to return to your normal timeline during the day.
Take things one step at a time: The way we work will never return to the way it was before the pandemic. Things will likely keep changing and we will need to keep adjusting. Think of this as an opportunity to do things differently, and better. Take each day and week one at a time.
Be self-aware: Keep track of how you are coping and feeling and what you are doing to stay healthy. If you feel like the stress and anxiety is not dissipating or is more than you can handle alone, do not be afraid to reach out to a professional. For Blue KC members and included in their health plan, Mindful Advocates are available 24/7 and only one phone call away. People are experiencing a high level of anxiety right now and a professional can help.
Here are a few tips if you are experiencing anxiety specifically:
- Mindfulness: Practice mindfulness exercises like scanning your body from head to toe or listening to the birds or wind for a few minutes.
- Breathing: There are hundreds of breathing exercises online. They can be good practice when starting your day, when you are anxious or before going to bed.
- Visualization- Creative visualization exercises, like imagining your favorite vacation spot, or visualizing water and nature.
These exercises can be calming and inspiring. Everyone is finding their own path as we return to the “new normal” and things might not always go to plan. It is important to give yourself some grace and be kind to yourself and others as we all find our way.
For Blue KC members, behavioral health support is available 24/7 and one call away. Right now, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Mindful by Blue KC includes behavioral health support as part of your plan and Mindful Advocates are available 24/7 to listen, navigate care, and provide guidance for your behavioral health needs. Call 800-302-MIND (6463) or visit MindfulBlueKC.com to learn more.