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Return to work in the COVID crisis: psychological consequences

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Context changes, the transition from one environment and a series of activities to another environment with their own rules of behavior, tend to be key moments for the emotional well-being of the people.

The end of a season in which we have been away from the workplace is a good example of that: reinstatement has psychological implications for usfor both the good and the bad. And if that return to routine can become complicated in itself, the combination of this with the COVID-19 crisis poses an even greater challenge for many people.

  • Related article: "Types of Anxiety Disorders and their characteristics"

Return to work in times of pandemic

Contrary to what many people believe, the emotional states that we experience in our day to day are not basically a mental phenomenon; they do not start and end in our head, and as much as we try to avoid expressing any emotions, they arise in the interaction between us and the environment.

It is not that feelings and our subjective experiences are born in our brain and then are reflected "out" in what we do, but could not exist if there really were a separation between what surrounds us and what happens in our mind.

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Therefore, when we go from being immersed in one context to being immersed in another, a psychological transformation inevitably occurs in us. And what happens in the return to work after a period of not working (at least, paid) is proof of this. For many people, having to face a wave of new tasks to do, or having to adapt to a slightly different work system, is difficult to digest, or outright overwhelms them.

But this year, in addition, back to work after the summer vacation season is added a unprecedented social and health context, which has shaken both politics and the economy world; the coronavirus makes there is much less certainty about what we will be doing in a couple of months sight, and it also increases the risk of losing your job and / or the level of income at which we took seated.

That means there are even more elements to consider when adapting to the first days of work, something that, if not managed well, can trigger significant psychological problems, both emotionally and cognitively as well as personal relationships and performance labor.

Possible sources of discomfort in such a situation

As we have seen, the transition that reincorporation entails can promote or lead to significant changes on a psychological level.

Keep in mind that sometimes these changes are for the better; for example, someone who has started to develop an addiction during their vacation trip you are more likely to leave it behind simply by going back to your city and your routines usual. However, on many occasions these changes represent a mismatch due to having to “relearn” to assume numerous responsibilities.

Some of these possible sources of problems caused by the return to work in the coronavirus crisis are the following.

1. Uncertainty

The uncertainty about what will happen is itself something that biases us towards pessimism. At a time of health and economic crisis, the most common is that the lack of information is perceived as a greater presence of dangerous elements, with the consequent increase in the level of anxiety.

2. Feeling of loss of control

In principle, we are the owners of what we do in our private lives, and this includes the degree of contagion risk that we are willing to assume. But in the work context, many people can feel very insecure about having to fit in with what is expected of their professional role. Even if the organization you work for uses effective security protocols, not having full control over the degree of exposure to the virus can lead to significant psychological exhaustion through stress and anxiety.

3. Increased risk of developing symptoms of depression

If the return to work is marked by catastrophic thoughts about what will happen to us and fear for what is to come (for example, if we feel that we are not adapting to the pace of work fast enough or the company will go into crisis), it is likely that many of the incentives that kept us satisfied with that work will stop function.

This combination of anxiety and lack of incentives is highly correlated with mood disorders, among which depression stands out. It is not surprising that a large percentage of those who experience anxiety about their work life also develop depression.

  • You may be interested in: "Types of depression: their symptoms, causes and characteristics"

4. Negative psychological consequences derived from the above

In everything related to psychology, experiences related to discomfort generate a domino effect with great ease. Stress and anguish increase the chances of suffering from insomnia, for example, as well as anxiety management patterns that are another problem: addictions, impulse control disorders, etc.

Can you do something about it?

Much of what we have seen so far does not depend only on what you do yourself, but on what happens around you. For example, a work environment in which working conditions are very bad or there is even exploitation, often gives way to psychological problems whose cause is beyond our actions.

However, in other cases there is enough room for maneuver to enhance mental health without having to change jobs.

In situations like this, psychotherapy is very effective, since it can serve to progress in the following aspects, among others:

  • Management of anxiety at the moment when it makes us feel bad.
  • Empowerment of self-knowledge to be efficient looking for solutions to discomfort.
  • Development of time management skills and performance improvement.
  • Adoption of more appropriate habits in personal relationships and enhancement of social skills.
  • Increased ease in detecting distress management patterns that are problematic.
  • Increased control over impulses.
  • Improvement of the skills of managing the concentration in the task.

Are you looking for professional psychological support?

Ignacio Garcia Vicente

If you notice that you are suffering psychological wear and tear due to the situation you are living in the workplace, I encourage you to contact me. I am a psychologist specialized in cognitive-behavioral therapy and third-generation therapies, and I treat adult patients with a wide range of variety of problems: work stress, anxiety disorders and phobias, depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, addictions, couple conflicts... In this page You can find more information about how I work, and my contact details.

Bibliographic references:

  • Grupe, D.W. & Nitschke, J.B. (2013). Uncertainty and Anticipation in Anxiety. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 14 (7): pp. 488 - 501.
  • Mahmud, S.; Uddin Talukder, M.; Rahman, M. (2020). Does ‘Fear of COVID-19’ trigger future career anxiety? An empirical investigation considering depression from COVID-19 as a mediator. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, doi: 10.1177 / 0020764020935488.
  • Melchior, M. et. to the. (2008). Work stress precipitates depression and anxiety in young, working women and men. Psychological Medicine, 37 (8): pp. 1119 - 1129.
  • Nash-Wright, J. (2011). Dealing with anxiety disorders in the workplace: importance of early intervention when anxiety leads to absence from work. Professional case management, 16 (2): pp. 55 - 59.

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