Creating your own ‘new normal’ – finding your feet in the post-lockdown workplace.
As restrictions ease and lockdowns end, we cautiously need to re-engage with what were previously routine activities.
As restrictions ease and lockdowns end, many of us find ourselves in a period of transition as we cautiously re-engage with previously routine activities, such as catching up with friends, going to the cinema, attending celebrations and attending our usual workplaces.
While a societal return to these activities has been met with celebration, they can also create a sense of unease and even anxiety as we find our feet in our post-lockdown world. This unease can be especially pronounced at work, where reengagement also means grappling with old hassles and frustrations including commutes, traffic, office noise, meetings and unwanted distractions. In this article Rachael McMahon, Principal Psychologist of the APS Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Unit at the Australian Public Service Commission discusses some practical actions that can be taken to ease workplace re-entry and create a positive ‘new-normal’ for your workplace.
While there is a lot to celebrate as we re-enter our ‘semi-normal’ life, it is also important to acknowledge feelings of tension, apprehension or anxiety that might surface. The world is different –and it requires us to adapt.
“Be realistic about your expectations of yourself and of others...."
People adapt to change at different speeds and change takes time. Listen to your internal dialogue and if it is overly negative, or your mood is low and not shifting, seek support. Talk to a trusted colleague, friend or manager, or reach out to formal supports such as your agency’s Employee Assistance Provider or your General Practitioner (GP).
Take a moment to reflect on your lockdown experience. Acknowledge the challenges but also identify any positive changes that occurred during lockdown. For instance, did you focus more on self-care? Or did you check in more on friends and colleagues overseas? In taking stock of your experience you can start to make conscious choices about the behaviour and activities you want to continue to invest in as you re-enter the physical workplace. For example, you may want to continue a lunchtime walk, or continue to use digital technology for collaboration and innovation with interstate and overseas colleagues.
Prioritise social connection
Along with diet, physical movement/exercise and sleep, social connection is a fundamental part of sustaining good mental health. Returning to work provides us with the opportunity to enhance our connections, both work-related and social. The workplace provides an important environment for us to cultivate feelings of belonging and happiness. Be deliberate and set goals to become involved in your workplace culture such as joining a network or attending a social event. Look out for those who are struggling and extend a friendly gesture.
Change of routines can mean increases in cognitive load and you may find yourself feeling more tired or mentally taxed than usual. Taking breaks, working reasonable hours, using good sleep hygiene techniques, exercising and relaxation, including mindfulness practice, can all help to combat exhaustion and ease the transition back to physical work routines.
As the year comes to an end, plan your goals for 2022. Set some priority areas of investment such as improvements in lifestyle, health, family relationships, or your career. Build a tribe around your ambitions by enlisting the support of friends, colleagues, your GP or psychologist. Change can be difficult, so the more structure and support you put around your goals, the more likely you are to reach and sustain them.
For many of us, 2021 has been incredibly challenging. However with reflection, support and determination we can set and achieve goals that nurture us and enable us to thrive.