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Thrive tip: managing common work-related anxieties

Preparing for a new workday often comes with routine habits: have a cup of coffee or tea, eat breakfast, get dressed, prepare a lunch and head out the door. In our new work environment, you might also have to remember to pack your computer, headphones and notes. There’s also something “new” to add to the mix: post-pandemic anxiety. In the continually changing work culture, some of us might be struggling with work-related anxiety and adjusting those behaviors as we re-build our daily work habits. 

Krista Jarvis, LPC

Krista Jarvis, LPC, clinical case manager in WashU’s Department of Psychiatry, has noticed common themes as we returned or resumed on-site work: work-related and social anxiety are on the rise.

 “Now there is a sense that things are open again and large gatherings are happening, we have more opportunities to engage,” Jarvis said. “We’re all out of practice and it will take some time to get back into the routine of remembering what your normal is.”

If you struggle to think of what to say next to a coworker when you’re refreshing your water bottle in the kitchen, you’re not alone. If you find yourself overwhelmed sitting in a large meeting or wondering why you feel more exhausted than normal after being on-site for work, you’re not alone. These are all symptoms’ people experience as we adjust back to this new normal. Jarvis said it’s important to take stock of how you’re feeling and understand what your needs are in that moment and long term. 

“Plan ahead, do a self-check-in and make sure you have an exit strategy” Jarvis said. “If we slow down, we might notice the physical or mental effects of anxiety and have the opportunity to help ourselves overcome those feelings.”

If you’re unsure if you’re anxious, consider how anxiety impacts a person: Jarvis noted it can affect our mind through worry thoughts as well as through physical symptoms like increased breathing or a racing heartbeat, chest tightening, cold and clammy hands or an overall feeling of being tense or on edge. If you feel this way, it could be the perfect time to complete a self-check-in.

Without addressing this anxiety, it might fuel how you’re already feeling: exhausted and unmotivated, and feeling burnout.

“Be extra gentle with yourself,” Jarvis said. “On the other side of the pandemic, the weight of the world might feel like it’s been dropped on your shoulders.”

Jarvis recommends finding something to look forward to help overcome the anxiety, lack of motivation and adjustment to onsite work. Use your vacation time and focus on restoring yourself.

“We’ve forgotten how to dream or celebrate accomplishments,” she said. “Having those things to look forward to can be so helpful.”

You can also visit WashU’s Well-being Hub for resources including accessing our employee assistance program, Work-Life Solutions, information to schedule an appointment with WashU Psychiatry, and mindfulness programming.

If you’re a leader, below are also some additional ways you can support your team members.

  • Check in with your employees and make sure they’re OK. If they need additional support, help them find it (visit the Well-being Hub) and let them know you are glad they trust you and are seeking help.
  • Set the example to take a break from work in the evenings and on weekends. Reinforce work isn’t always urgent and if it is, you’ll find them.
  • Create a culture where your acknowledge your team’s needs. 
  • Remember we are all adjusting on our timeline. Be respectful if someone wants to continue wearing a mask or maintaining physical space. Consider adding meeting sizes to meeting invitations. 
  • Let the team know your own self-care habits and encourage they find time to develop or participate in their own self-care practice.