Tips for making the transition back to work in level 2 easier

woman nervous at work
If you're feeling anxious about level 2, you're not alone. Photo credit: Getty.

After more than six weeks, most Kiwis have gotten used to the 'new normal' of life in various stages of lockdown. Many of us are working from home offices, living rooms or even bed and are used to taking our daily Government-sanctioned walk or run to break things up. 

But once again, we're headed for a drastic change in our living situations. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the nation on Monday, revealing New Zealand will be coming out of lockdown at midnight on Wednesday. This means most businesses shut throughout lockdown will be able to reopen - with regulations - and many people will be heading back to work for the first time in moths. 

For those juggling kids, flatmates and home life, you may be chomping at the bit to wash your hair and head back into the office. For others, the idea of leaving their bubble and getting back into the big wide world might be one that triggers anxiety or sadness. 

"Heading back to work and normal life after a period away can be daunting," says Natasha Crowe, a counsellor and psychotherapist.

"Individuals who struggle with generalised or social anxiety may become overwhelmed with just the thought of getting back into a routine; the energy that it takes to be fully present at work can take its toll."

If you're feeling less than impressed about the coming weeks of COVID-19 alert level 2, I've put together some tips to make the transition a little bit easier. 

Ease in 

The last two months have been a daunting time and a lot of the information we've received is that home is the safest place to be. That means that going back to work all guns blazing for five days a week, eight hours a day, might be a bit much for you right now, and that's OK. If your job allows it and you've been productively working from home, ask your employer if you can stagger your arrival back at work. Perhaps you head into the office one day on, one day off for a while, or spend mornings at work and afternoons working from home (WFH). This will make the transition a little more gradual while your body and mind gets used to the adjustment. 

woman walking to work
Turn that daily Government-sanctioned walk into your new commute. Photo credit: Getty.

Reassess the commute

If you're anything like me, the daily commute one of the things you're most dreading about heading back to work. I've quickly gotten used to my journey now a simple a walk down the stairs to my home office, with a quick deviation to the coffee machine on the way. The thought of leaving the house early enough to sit in traffic, find a park and pay an extortionate amount for parking feels like torture. 

If you're in the same boat (or ferry, if you're in Devonport), it might be time to think about alternatives. Is there a train or bus service nearby you would feel comfortable with? Can you use your newfound love for a daily stroll to spend a little more time walking to work, or use the money saved to invest in an e-bike? Or if your work is offering staggered or newly flexible hours under level 2, you could try starting before or after rush hour for a smoother journey. 

Take a little lockdown with you 

If you've developed habits in lockdown you're enjoying, take them with you into level 2. Just because you're back at work doesn't mean it has to be exactly the same as pre-lockdown days. Some of the habits we've picked up when WFH make the day go a little smoother and will help combat some of the anxieties about getting out of the 'new normal'. Have a relaxing playlist you play loudly at home? Take some noise-cancelling headphones to work and keep the good tunes rolling. If you've gotten into the habit of a daily walk or yoga class, leave work at lunchtime for a stroll around the block or see if there's a nearby studio you can pop into. And most importantly, in my opinion, if you've gotten used to working in comfy activewear, it might be a sign it's time to ditch the heels for good. 

man listening to music at his desk
Take your WFH playlist to work. Photo credit: Getty.

People power

One of the main things you can do to ease anxieties during this time is not to wallow in your fears but talk to others about your feelings. There's a very good chance they're feeling the same way. Grab your work wife and go for a coffee together on day one - I guarantee you'll feel better after a little human interaction.

Professor Ian Hickie, co-director of the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney, tells the Guardian the best treatment for any such anxiety is to return to the world and social interaction as much as possible. Human beings, he says, are social animals and cope in a crisis by coming together. On the flip side, anxiety leads to avoidance, which in turn heightens the fear. 

"The treatment, the cure, is to go out there in the world and discuss with others and get back to your normal life."