My workplace has been planning to have our team back in the office full-time starting soon, and I’m finding myself a nervous wreck. I feel both anxious and angry about this decision given that we don’t know what will happen with these virus variants and my kids are still too young for a vaccine. I didn’t like the transition to work from home, but now it feels like the rug is being pulled out again, and I just can’t take it. Is this anxiety? Am I overreacting? Or should I suck it up and just do what I have to do?
- Office Anxiety
As a working parent of young children during a pandemic, you’ve been bearing an inordinately heavy load over the past year and a half. Since we have no precedent, there’s no standard for how to react. So let’s throw out the “overreacting” hypothesis out of the gate.
That said, your reaction to this latest change is most certainly informed by the stress, struggle, and anxiety of this uncertain period in history. How could it not be?
What we have collectively experienced over the past year is nothing short of a trauma. Traumatic experiences are ones in which we have very little sense of control, we feel threatened, and the outcomes are uncertain. Check, check, check.
When we have been impacted by a traumatic event, we become more hypervigilant and our alarm systems for other threats get more sensitive. When we have a chronic trauma, like this pandemic, our bodies and brains get stuck in hypervigilant mode, making it challenging to fully relax and, for some, sleep.
What also happens is that this ongoing hypervigilance makes it hard to interpret other potential signs of danger. We might start to over- or under-estimate risks, question ourselves constantly, or even numb out.
When it comes to your return to the office, only you can fully determine the risks and benefits because you know you and your family’s unique situation. I have friends with immuno-compromised special needs kids who need to maintain physical distancing and others who have fully-vaxxed households and are desperate for a quiet commute.
What will be important, though, is being able to consider what is right for you -- and even having a conversation with your manager if needed -- from a grounded place. If you are struggling to get more grounded, you might want to consider talking with a therapist to help you get a better handle on your thoughts and feelings.
Have a question you'd like to ask Dr. Ashley? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.