Humans are not only emotionally attached to people but also to things and places that made them feel safe in times of uncertainty. But what if it's time to go back to normal and leave the safe zone? How do people deal with the anxiety building up inside of them?
Returning to the workplace means that people are once again faced with the challenges of a changing environment of health rules and regulations, especially in social distancing. For some, it could be an opportunity to regain independence, but for others, it might be an anxiety-inducing experience.
The bottom line is that people can face separation anxiety from their homes as they return to their workplace.
Feeling attached to home
Humans can get attached to other people and pets but also to places where they feel safe. Getting attached to a place means that the person has created a bond to a specific place, such as their homes, parks, or a city. These bonds stemmed from feeling safe and the opportunity to grow and continue to explore interests.
This bond is not static; as people create an attachment to places, their feelings and behavior also change. The best example of this is college. As young people move out of their homes to college to be independent, the place shapes them into someone new, so the campus becomes a cherished place for students.
In the same manner, that is also what happens to people when they have worked from home for a few months to stay safe from the pandemic.
How do we experience separation anxiety from home?
According to the Diagnostic Statical Manual of Mental Disorders, a person must experience "recurrent excessive distress when anticipating or experiencing separation from home or from major attachment figures," for them to be clinically diagnosed with separation anxiety.
Someone with separation anxiety may experience excessive worry, with the feeling that separation could end in harm, unusual distress, or heightened fear about being separated from a loved one. Physiological symptoms include nausea, headache, and sore throat when thinking about separation or when separation is imminent. That mostly happens in children.
When people go back to work, they might feel anxious because they feel a sense of uncertainty from working away from home, a place that has become their safe haven throughout the first months of the pandemic.
But the anxiety felt might not be too intense to qualify in the clinical diagnosis of separation anxiety. However, that does not mean that people cannot develop coping strategies to minimize stress from affecting their daily lives.
Minimizing potential separation anxiety
The goal of the workplace these days should be in strengthening support, especially coming from managers. They have to be understanding and flexible to their staff to go back to work.
They could have individual chats with their employees. There are also signs of struggle, considering how the transition can impact employees in terms of costs, transportation, and time away from home. Also, review work arrangements allowing employees a balanced routine, like flexible work from the home set-up.
Moreover, ensure employees that they have a safe place to work and prepare them for changes and acknowledge the individual efforts of each employee and encourage self-care.
Meanwhile, employees should try to understand what makes them feel safe and comfortable in their homes to incorporate it into their work environment, if possible. Also, think of other ways of communicating with workmates without engaging in formal meetings.
Furthermore, think of new practices implemented during the lockdown and continue doing them, like sharing meals over zoom. Lastly, if the management allows it, organize a "take your pet to the workday." Doing so would help employees become mentally healthy.
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