Managing the ambiguity of reopening

Here are a few ideas of how to manage any fear or worry that might begin to emerge relating to the return-to-work uncertainty.

With the country starting to open more and more following the lockdown precautions, many people will be breathing a little sigh of relief as they are able to travel further, meet other friends, family and colleagues and enjoy outlets beginning to open for business once again. For many others however, a sense of uncertainty will still feel very real, not knowing how the next number of weeks and months will go, and with the threat of an expected second wave of transmission with restrictions gradually lifting.

Reactionary fear – to be expected

All of us will have reacted to COVID-19 in various ways. Each of us going through levels of loss, as one by one, common everyday things we took for granted, were temporarily taken from us. As part of this loss we inevitably felt scared, worried, and afraid, at times for ourselves, our loved ones, our colleagues, and our ability to earn a living. This is a natural and expected reaction and is part of the loss process. Do not be overly concerned, as it is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Over time as we adapted to the situation our fears and worries began to dissipate as our strong human adaptation skills naturally kick in.

Anticipatory fear – worrying about what might happen and what to expect

Unfortunately, sometimes we can get stuck in parts of the loss process by beginning to ruminate in negative ways about what has happened, what is happening and what we imagine will happen in the future. When we do this, we move into ‘anticipatory fear’ as we worry about the future and start to overthink about what we don’t yet presently know, such as what life will be like in a couple of months’ time. Although some musing and wondering about the future is natural, if however, we find ourselves getting very anxious about what might come, we need to learn to help ourselves stop this type of thinking. Why? Well in real terms we do not yet have enough information about the future to be able to take some clear actions from. We are therefore worrying about things we cannot yet influence, and this is not good for us. It is better to know that we have extremely good adaptive skills and that whatever happens we can use these skills to deal with the future situation when it occurs.

Helpful actions – plan ahead

As things progress and we get more information, we then can adapt to the unfolding situation by making decisions and taking action to deal with that future situation – then and there. For now, it is much more productive for us to work on the things we can influence in the here and now, and an example of this is our own thoughts, feelings, and daily actions. Some good actions to take therefore are:

  • Make a plan each morning for what you want to realistically achieve that day

  • Make some of these wellness related goals e.g. exercise, relaxation techniques, social contact

  • Check at the end of the day what you have achieved and start the process again the next day

  • At the end of each week look at your list to see what helped you most, especially when you felt worried

  • Reach out to others that you know help and support you well

Self-awareness – feel better

What we know about worry and fear, especially ‘anticipatory fear’ is that negative thinking makes situations feel much worse than they actually are. A good habit to get into is to become aware of the quality of your thoughts. To do this, simply listen to your body and regularly see what you are feeling – happy, sad, afraid, calm, or relaxed etc. If you feel quite worried or intensely anxious, start to journal your thoughts. Writing out what you think is worrying you or is making your feelings more intense, will help your body make some sense and meaning of these feelings. Recognise if any of these feeling relate to negative thoughts and if they do, coach yourself out of that thinking, by thinking something else e.g. like the opposite of that thought. Or, if it is a thought about the future, remind yourself that you can’t predict the future and therefore this thought is not helpful.

Self-control – feel confident

By knowing we have strategies like this to call on, we begin to feel more confident that we can have a real influence over the things we can genuinely influence. The more we are able to manage our own thoughts and feelings in relation to any situation but especially in relation to an intimidating situation, the more resilient we become. Some other clinically based self-control strategies are:

  • focused breathing exercises

  • a daily meditation routine

  • short intense bouts of physical exercise

Plus, the aforementioned journaling can really help bring a lot of control and certainty to our own abilities at a time when we are feeling a high level of uncertainty and concern. Research shows the more we practice these strategies the more resilient we become.

Source: our Partner Wrkit.