Hello, friends! In this episode, I answer two great questions which focus on coping mentally when you’re still having to go to work during quarantine, and how to recognize if a treatment plan/group therapy is a good fit for you when you have anxiety.
Hello Duff, I have been a long time listener, reader and student of your Anxiety program. As I turned to your podcast today for advice on this pandemic, as I am finding myself struggling more and more each day, I am not finding the relief or advise that helps my situation. Everything I have read in the news, seen on social media, listened to in podcasts are all directed to those who are home in isolation. My work is still open and we are still to report to the offices. They have us separated but still it is hard for me mentally to go in each day. I have been struggling to say the least. I turned to all these outlets that have helped me in the past but I realized it wasn’t working this time. And I think that is because I can not connect to them. What advice would you have for those of us who are still out in the work force? Ways to cope mentally. I thank you for your time, and for all that you have provided over the years. It really did get me through some dark times. Thank you. Stay safe.
Thank you for asking this. I haven’t gotten a ton of questions from this perspective, but I think it’s really valid. In what I’ve seen from my personal friends and on social media, there are definitely a lot of people still working that are having a very hard time. Panic attacks when having to go into the office etc. So I’m grateful for the opportunity to address this.
Whether people are working from home or working in the office, it needs to be understood that these circumstances are different. Most of us can’t expect to thrive in a situation like this. You are trying to get the same or more work done with a vastly different context. The impact of your work will likely drain you more, so burnout becomes more of an issue. Perhaps this is because you are being asked to put your wellbeing at stake each day, or it might be the culture around you in the office place. It could be the fact that you need to be hypervigilant and second guess each of your actions. It could be that the customers or clientele you deal with are more difficult due to the situation. Whatever it is, you are trying to work in the midst of a pandemic and so it’s going to naturally be harder.
As the weeks and months continue, you are also likely starting to experience the burnout caused by an extended stress reaction. Even if you aren’t stressed acutely in every moment, the uncertainty and shittiness of the whole situation is in the back of your mind and you can never fully turn off. This leads to exhaustion. At the same time, you need to be able to accomplish your work, so you push through your exhaustion as best you can, which is basically causing you to go into debt with your own body. That debt will catch up with you eventually. Don’t forget that because you are working and going into the workplace, you are simply required to be more careful more often than someone like me who can basically stay home every day of the week without issue.
So what can we do about this?
As with any situation, it’s important to take stock of what you do and do not have control over. For instance, let’s say that you work in a grocery store. The types of customers that you deal with on a daily basis are largely out of your control. How well they adhere to the rules, how polite or rude they are etc. There may be some things that you do have control of that you can leverage. In your workspace, are there modifications that you can make? For instance, could you place a sign showing correct mask placement, so people aren’t walking up to you with their noses hanging out? Could you adjust the space so that you can be farther away from people or have less physical contact with shared objects? These are arbitrary examples, but look for simply adjustments you can make. You also may need to advocate for yourself in some situations. If your employer is ignoring issues or unduly putting you at risk, this may need to be addressed for your sake and for the sake of everyone else.
Before going into work, try to make sure that your basic needs are met. This means looking down to the bottom at things like sleep, making sure you’ve fed yourself well and things like that. Journaling is something that I think could be very helpful for all of us right now. This is a unique time in that we are literally living through something that will be in history books. It’s unprecedented and writing down your thoughts and feelings is one really great way to check in with yourself and process things rather than bottling them up. Also makes a great time capsule. If you find that you are getting anxious at work, you may want to focus on your breathing strategies to lower your physical state of anxiety. This will allow you to think more rationally while at work and reduce the impact of emotional reasoning/interpretation. I have resources on all these things.
When you are off of work, you need to give yourself the opportunity to be “off” even more than you did before. You really need to turn off as best as possible and allow yourself to recover. It may not be the time to focus on long-term projects or go over and above in the household. Just get through it. You need to re-charge so that you can maintain that level of functioning you need to get through each day. At work, you can’t expect yourself to be working at maximum efficiency and that’s okay. Do what you can and try to not beat yourself up for not performing the way you did a few months ago because the world is fundamentally different than it was a few months ago.
Finally, if possible, splurge in some way. Get some nice noise-canceling headphones for the office, buy a treadmill for home, get that video game you’ve been wanting for a while, purchase food for delivery more often than you would normally. Just set yourself to have some ease in your life to try to somewhat balance out the difficulty you’re facing. You are allowed to have a hard time whether you are isolated or not – everyone is experiencing challenges and many of us are having a legitimate hard time. We are just trying to get through.
Dear Dr. Duff, First of all, apologies in advance for any grammar errors. English isn’t my native language. I need some advice about the following: this or next week a psychologist of the mental health facility will get back to me about their ‘treatment advice’. Probably some form of group therapy and maybe some one-to-one sessions alongside it. I really dread group therapy, but maybe that’s my anxiety speaking. How do I know if it feels ‘right enough’ to accept their treatment plan? Can I believe my doubts or will I then just follow my anxious thoughts?
It sounds like you are trying to ask whether you should avoid group therapy or whether that is just playing into your anxiety?
I assume by now you’ve already gotten your treatment advice from this organization, so this may or may not be directly helpful to you. I think that a lot of people prefer individual to group therapy, especially those who have anxiety. The thought of being called out in a group of people sounds scary to those that may have social anxiety. My opinion about it is that it is worth it to try, but whether it is great for you depends on a few factors.
First off, just because you are participating in the group therapy does not mean that you need to be sharing openly and comfortably from the start. It is normal to take a few sessions to ease into the dynamic. The group and the facilitator also make a big difference. A skilled facilitator will work with the different individuals to make a good group dynamic. Every group is going to have a different feel due to the combination of individuals in it.
- There is a normalizing factor where you don’t feel weird. You know you’re not the only one experiencing these things. Sometimes it’s hard for outside people to “get it”.
- There are insights that come up that aren’t always possible with just one or two brains working at it. Like a brainstorming session. You might pick up some great insights from other people processing out loud.
- Group sessions also give you a safe(r) space to practice some of the skills you might be using in individual therapy.
If you try it out and feel that the group therapy is so intense or uncomfortable for you that you feel like quitting the program altogether, you should let them know that. Maybe there is a modification that you can make to your program or simply make sure that the group facilitators are aware and can approach the situation appropriately.
So I say that you try your best to go along with their recommendations. You don’t need to be perfect at it and it may take some time to ease into a good pattern. But it provides another avenue for helping yourself that is a little different than individual therapy and you can also use it as a way to practice anxiety techniques that you’ve learned on your own or in individual therapy.
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