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Post-pandemic Re-entry Anxiety at Workplace

For most of us, it's been over a year since life "return to normal": shops are now fully open, travel restrictions have been abandoned, people are going into offices again, meetings have transitioned from Zoom and Teams to in-person. Yet, many are still hesitant to resume activities like commuting to work, going back to working full time in an office, or even attending company social events. The American Psychology Association reported that nearly half 49% of people feel uneasy about adjusting back to in-person interaction since pandemic has ended.

Last week, a client who works at a global bank shared with me how she felt uneasy every Monday morning when her team do a round table sharing session where every person talks about what they've been up to over the weekend. "It was so stressful and I often struggle to find anything interesting to say, sometimes I felt like I had to do something over the weekend so I don't sound like a loser." she said.

Last year I also had a mother telling me how her daughter, who's in secondary school, struggled to speak up in class after lock down. The girl used to be perfectly fine answering teacher's questions in class, but after the pandemic, she has completely lost the ability to speak in front of her classmates, and would feel physical pain and nauseous when being put under the spotlight.

While in the Eastern counterpart in Japan, after three years of covid-era masking, some Japanese people felt rusty with their facial expression. Keiko Kwano, a radio host reported after three years of isolation, she found her smile began to fade, and at certain point she struggled to lift the corners of her mouth, almost like her face muscles went into atrophy. Here enters smile-training classes - where therapists host smile lessons to help people to learn to smile again, which is getting really popular in Japan these days. "Sometimes, you need to show a nice, professional smile, especially when doing client-facing work, and people neglect the importance of that." said Ms.Mae, one of the smile coaches from Osaka. "A smile training course could help people improve their facial expressions and build self-confidence." Said Masami Yamaguchi, a psychologist at Chuo University who has studied facial expression.

Going back to the office to interact in person can be daunting. Not only are there physical concerns of what to wear and how to commute, but also complicated corporate hierarchy that sometimes can be tricky to navigate. Many of us have gotten used to working on our own schedule, in our own space. Now being asked to return to an environment where we often have limited privacy and freedom, and increased demands for social interactions and small talks - could be stressful and exhausting, especially for introverts.

While some level of anxiety is expected for most people when returning to workplace, it is important to differentiate between a reasonable level of anxiety and those that may post a significant issue. When re-entry anxiety gets excessive to a point where it starts to interfere daily functioning and normal social life, it is important to seek professional help.

Click here to read 3 effective psychology techniques that can help manage social anxiety.


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