I was speaking to a group of 80 leaders last week on one of my favorite topics – agility. The company hosting me had just announced their “back to office” plans, putting employees into four categories: work completely in office; work three days in, two days virtual; work two days in, three days virtual; or all virtual. While the announcement was expected, the reality of how the decision would impact each person was setting in.
At the end of my talk, a gentleman (who had kept his video off) spoke up:“I’m actually a little embarrassed to admit this, but I am really struggling with having to go back to the office. Everyone seems so happy with masks off and moving about freely again, but I am nervous. What can I do?”
I understood exactly how he felt. Even for someone who has traveled the globe for more than 40 years, my last flight was back in March 2020. Now I am harboring my own angst and nervousness about “going back.”
Re-entry Anxiety is real, and many of us are feeling this way after sheltering over the past 18 months. As I work through my own anxiety, there are a few things I try and stay focused on.
Start small. You can’t go out and run your usual five miles the same day they cut the cast off your leg. Your muscles have atrophied, and they need to be rebuilt with small workouts over time. In my case, a trip to the airport to get inside the terminal and pick someone else up was a good first step.
Verbalize it. There is power in naming what you are afraid of. Getting the narrative of fear out of your head by saying it out loud to a loved one works wonders. You can’t overcome the fear until you can articulate it. That empathetic listener may also have their own fears to share with you, giving you an opportunity to help — and feel less alone.
Visualize it. Mentally place yourself in that new environment and walk through the movements you’ll need to get there. Through this practice, you can begin to recreate that habit and regain some comfort. When you can see yourself performing the routine, it is easier to do it later. Visualization fires and strengthens the same neural circuits you’ll use to perform what needs to be done.
Laugh a little, laugh a lot! Many of us have forgotten this lovely part of our lives. Laughing releases wonderful endorphins, lifting our spirits. I personally love to laugh until I cry…it just feels so darn good.
This past week, I hosted a small “huddle” of Signature Executives to discuss “the loads we carry and how to make them lighter.” Turned out, most of these loads were hitting our personal lives more than professional ones. Signature Surge Advisor, Sue Suver (former CHRO for Aptiv), had the best metaphor for handling these challenges. She asked us to think about the balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. Those balloons, which can be two to three stories high, are “tethered” by multiple ropes — different for each balloon. The ropes serve as the anchor to keep the massive balloon stable and moving forward. Without those tethers, it would float all over the place, with no focus or momentum. She recommended we all write down the various things that “tether us” for stability.
As you work through your own anxiety of going back to the office and back to traveling, or as your team works through their anxieties, remember your tethers for stability.
Everyone will have a different approach to “going back,” and each of us also has different tether lines. What works for you may not be the same for even your own family members, and we need to recognize those differences and give each other grace. Let’s help one another find those things that stabilize us so that we can move forward with focus and create momentum. What are your tether lines?