Anxious About Going Back to Work
Dear Anxiety Sisters,
My job wants me to come in two days a week starting next month. I don’t know what to do. I have been home for more than a year, and my agoraphobia (which I had before but got over it) is really bad again. I am afraid I won’t be able to get back to work, and I can’t afford to lose my job. Please help.
You are not alone in feeling anxious about getting out and about post COVID. Many people that never dealt with agoraphobia before are apprehensive about going back to work, school, social life, etc. Those of us that have dealt with agoraphobia before may feel like we have taken a step (or many steps) back. Over the past year we have been encouraged (and often mandated) to do everything from home, and it has become too comfortable for many of us to be at home. Now we are expected to transition back to our pre-COVID life, and it is really difficult. But we know that if you were able to get over agoraphobia before, you have the tools to do it again, and you will be able to do it!
First, take a breath. In fact, take ten slow breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. (This is always a great way to get your body out of the fight-flight-freeze mode.) Second, make sure that you are having kind and encouraging conversations with yourself full of self-compassion. Acknowledge your fear and let yourself feel whatever is coming up for you. (It may sound something like this: “Of course I am anxious about leaving my comfort zone—everyone is. We’ve all been in a worldwide crisis which would cause anxiety even in people who don’t suffer from it. My response makes perfect sense.”) Comfort yourself as you would a frightened child or a good friend. After that, let yourself know that you can do this baby step by baby step.
Most of us who have dealt with agoraphobia have used some form of exposure therapy to get out again, and this certainly seems appropriate for you. Figure out some goals for yourself that require you to push yourself past your comfort zone but that do not seem entirely impossible. For example, you may want to “practice” by getting in the car and driving to your office (without going inside). You may find that you can do a bit more of the drive each day. Likewise, perhaps you can meet a friend for a walk outside or get your hair done (depending on your vaccination status). Anything you can do outside of your home will help expose you to your fear and show your very protective brain that you are not truly in danger. If all of this sounds like it’s too overwhelming, start by putting a chair by your front door and sitting outside. When that feels easier, take a walk around the block. Teeny tiny steps are what we are all about!
We know that anything you do will be anxiety-provoking right now. We suggest having a Spin Kit with you. This is like a first-aid kit to help you manage the anxiety symptoms. Likewise, we don’t know if you are on medication, but this can often be helpful when you are doing exposure therapy because it is so anxiety-provoking. If you find yourself stuck during this process and unable to move forward, you may need the help of a therapist with experience in agoraphobia.
Lastly, do not forget your own resilience and strength. You have done this before and can do it again. This time you have a head start because you know what the process it like. We know it is daunting, but we also have every confidence that you can and will do it. We are here for any support you might need along the way. Your Anxiety Sisters are cheering for you!