Back-to-workplace woes post-corona are a real thing

Science and Health

Reunited with the office and it feels so good?

Not so for everyone, says Susan Kagan, a psychotherapist and head of the Play Therapy School, of the post-lockdown era.
“The people can be divided into two groups,” Kagan says. “One group is of those who have difficulty adjusting – first adjusting to a period at home, to the point of having anxiety and depression. This same group is currently having a hard time getting back to routine; for example, those who were in the IDF and now have to return to work. Some of them report that it is like starting a new job after unemployment. You have to get up in the morning, get dressed and adjust to people again.
“I have a patient who was put on unpaid leave. While on leave, she had a very hard time with the feeling that she had no purpose, and was unable to produce an alternative life for herself. Now, when she was brought back from unpaid leave, she reports that everything seems new to her, even though she knows the people, noting, ‘Suddenly I come to work and see that the person I was going out with for lunch connected with someone else.’”
What is the second type of inquiry?
“They belong to a group I would call ‘I fell in love with the situation.’ For example, I have a patient, a father, who felt guilty for working long hours and not seeing his children grow up – until coronavirus arrived. During the coronavirus period, he worked from home, fell in love with the new situation and now feels guilty about returning to the office for such long hours. 
“These two main types of people are now asking for help and saying, ‘We are not able to adapt to the new-old situation.’”
“The natural expectation was that once they opened the economy, things would return to normal and everyone would meet again, enjoy social gatherings, leave home, go to restaurants, like before the outbreak,” says Dr. Inbal Lustig, a social worker in psychoanalytic psychotherapy and a member of the SOMEBUD therapist community. “But it turns out the picture is completely different.”

DR. INBAL LUSTIG is helping young and old deal with the Fear of Going Out phenomenon. (Courtesy Inbal Lustig)DR. INBAL LUSTIG is helping young and old deal with the Fear of Going Out phenomenon. (Courtesy Inbal Lustig)

How is this expressed?
“I receive quite a few inquiries from parents of teenagers, from young people and also from adults who are having difficulty returning to social life. The phenomenon of ‘voluntary closure at home’ can be called the FOGO – Fear of Going Out – phenomenon. This can be manifested in the fact that people did not even leave their room in extreme cases, or will wander inside the house and not outside it, or will refuse to meet other people. They will go shopping at the supermarket, but they will not create social gatherings like they used to or go out.”
Why is this happening?
“Once there is an increase in anxiety, as happened during coronavirus where there was government backing to being confined to the home, then there are people who cannot all at once get rid of the sense of anxiety that has surrounded them. This of course characterizes more anxious people. The situation in which they stayed at home for a whole year led to the patterns already being established in them. There is a lack of interaction with others, and it is challenging for them to return to a normal path of life.”
“A lot of emotionally overwhelmed business owners turn to me,” confides Linda Marshall, a time management expert. “It’s hard for them to get back to their old pace of work. Everything stresses them out after a year where the work routine has been completely destroyed. The businesses have opened, everyone is supposed to be happy, but it produces emotional difficulty.”
Lack of energy
“There are now mostly inquiries from people whose routine went terribly wrong in the coronavirus period and are now having a hard time going back – whether it’s meeting people again or going back to work in the office. Alternatively, I see people who buckled down to succeed against the coronavirus period, cared for children and did everything to not fall mentally, while now they are experiencing a drop in stress they are reporting all sorts of anxious or depressive symptoms,” says Dr. Ilan Tal, a specialist psychiatrist, director of the Dr. Tal Center for Emotional and Mental Support. “It is suddenly difficult for them to sleep, they have no energy, they feel tired, when precisely during the coronavirus they were full of energy.”
‘I no longer have the strength for all the fuss’
Some of those affected weighted in.
“Before the coronavirus, I was a theater actor, while during the coronavirus everything was over and done with,” recounts Tomer Heldstein, 39. “I had to make a change and had to be something else. I developed Zoom workshops on how to work in front of a camera, I did business consulting for artists. Now that everything is open, I feel a mental upheaval again. It demanded a lot of mental resources from me to adapt to the coronavirus, but now all of a sudden there is no more Zooming, and you have to go look for yourself again.
“Everyone is happy now, while I feel that the things I built during the year have to be thrown in the garbage,” he reveals. ‘I ask myself, ‘What am I today? Am I a person who is going to go back to being what he was before the coronavirus or am I a new, different person, whose profession has changed a bit?’ There are a lot of doubts. It is not simple mentally and terribly confusing. If in the previous situation everyone was sad and I created a new reality for myself, then now everyone is happy and I am confused.”‘NOW THAT everything is open, I feel a mental upheaval again,’ says Tomer Heldstein. (Courtesy Tomer Heldstein)‘NOW THAT everything is open, I feel a mental upheaval again,’ says Tomer Heldstein. (Courtesy Tomer Heldstein)
“When the coronavirus broke out, we immediately started working from home,” says Tzachi (pseudonym), 44, who works for a production company. “This change was amazing. I had time for myself, I did not have to go to the office in Tel Aviv, I saw my children, I felt like a partner in my family. Now we are starting to talk about returning to work in the office, and I feel an emotional difficulty in disconnecting from my family and returning to what it once was.
“Plus, I no longer feel like interacting with people like I used to. I don’t feel like having hallway conversations and questions about ‘What did you do yesterday and today?’ I no longer have the strength for all the fuss or debating what to wear or not to wear to work. I got used to being more in the family, and they became my friends. I do not need more than that.” 
Is there a solution? “Many times I recommend to them a short psychological treatment to lend legitimacy to what they are going through,” explains Dr. Tal. “I also recommend engaging in as many fun activities as possible, stopping certain thoughts and understanding it is natural to feel this way.”
Translated by Tzvi Joffre.

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