Man in shirt and tie getting ready for work and looking nervous, head in hand

Anxious About Returning to In-Person Activities? You Are Not Alone.

  • May 31, 2023
  • Emily Sinkins

The effects of isolation and diminished in-person contact experienced during COVID varied greatly from individual to individual. Everyone grappled, but grappled differently … with fewer social events, with working from home, with less predictability and more flexibility in our routines, with how to ‘be’ outside of one’s bubble, and, often, with the fact that some of our greatest causes of frustration and vexation were seen as a welcome changes or comforts for others in our circles.

And now, as we return with more frequency and in greater numbers to the social and work spheres that we once blithely shared, many of us have found it’s not quite so simple … that we have surprising feelings and reactions, that our energy or enthusiasm levels do not match those of our peers, and that activities once second-nature are now stressful.

If you’ve found yourself wondering why you can’t go back to the way you were before, or why you feel suddenly daunted by deeply anticipated events, you are not alone. This reassurance rang out loud and clear during a webinar the OBA hosted recently on “Managing Anxiety When Returning to an In-Person World.” Led by Dr. Noah Lazar, Ph.D., C.Psych., clinical director and psychologist at The Downtown Psychology Clinic, the session provided useful strategies for alleviating the worry and uncertainty that come from being away from home and around others more often. Below are key tips from that constructive conversation – the latest program in the Mindful Lawyer CPD Series.

Don’t fight your feelings

It’s normal to feel a range of emotions when returning to an in-person world: resentment, uncertainty, anticipation, excitement. Don’t dwell on how you should or shouldn’t feel (e.g., “I should be able to handle this” or “It shouldn’t be so hard”). You can’t control the feelings, but you CAN redirect your attention to more positive things, consistent with your priorities and values.

Focus on the benefits that matter to you

Try not to focus on what you may have lost by being at home less, but on what you gain by being around people more: a post-work or post-event coffee with peers, new connections, a change of scenery, or an escape from online meetings!

Clarify expectations and ‘new rules’

As uncertainty often leads to anxiety, communication is key. Find out the expectations and safety processes in the place where you’re going, have a system to get clarification when needed, and be comfortable asserting yourself with questions or concerns.

Get used to asserting yourself

If you’re feeling unsure or unsafe in a space, it’s important to remember that you have rights, including the right to ask for what you want; to say “no;” to express your feelings; to change your mind; to not give excuses for your concerns; to be treated with dignity and respect; and to be happy. Assertiveness doesn’t always come naturally. Practice using clear, concise, goal-oriented statements and developing non-verbal assertiveness behaviours like leaning in and making eye contact. If you think being assertive means you’ll come across as aggressive or entitled, examine those beliefs!

Take a gradual approach to your return

If you’re feeling anxious about a social or work commitment, a ‘dry run’ to scope out the location and get your feet wet might be helpful. If you’re returning to the office, you might start by going in for one or two days and building up to three, four or five. Gradual exposure to anxiety helps extinguish it.  

Reprioritize routines for your comfort

When readjusting your routines to allow for in-person activities, you may have to reprioritize tasks. Make sure to schedule in time for things that are meaningful to you – with buffer time around each – to avoid getting overwhelmed.

Practice good sleep hygiene

A good night’s sleep matters. To that end, you want to ensure a distinct dissociation between sleep-related activities and work-related activities, which means no watching news or catching up on emails in bed. The goal is to trick your brain into winding down rather than revving up, so you get the sleep that leaves you best equipped to deal with whatever the new day brings and wherever it takes you.

Find a recording of this session and others from the Mindful Lawyer CPD Series here.