This content is provided to Johns Hopkins employees through a partnership between mySupport and Resources for Living.
This summer, the university's mySupport program hosted a series of return-to-campus support groups for managers and employees. These groups created a safe space for individuals to speak about their own situations and share their thoughts and feelings as they navigated what returning to in-person work would be like.
The issue of returning to campus elicited different reactions. Some employees never left or were already back, some were eager to return, and others were very concerned about the return. Throughout the sessions there were common themes of anxiety, worry, fear, or frustration with the uncertainty about the future.
Simply articulating your concerns and feeling the support of others can help release emotions, reduce anxieties, and validate that you are not alone.
The stress of the uncertainty
Living with uncertainty is hard. A crisis or dramatic change often creates a sense of chaos. The day-to-day "normal" can feel like it's been turned upside down. When things are unpredictable or feel uncertain, or when we do not feel safe, it is normal to feel stressed.
A large part of that stress comes from a sense of what can be controlled versus what cannot. Right now, many of us are worried about COVID-19 and the return to campus. Will we be safe? How will we adjust? Will life ever go back to normal? Will our children be safe as they return to school? We may feel helpless about what will happen or what we can do to prevent further stress.
In times like these, our mental health can suffer. One might feel more on edge than usual, angry, helpless, or sad. You might notice that you are more frustrated. Those who already struggle with mental illness may feel more depressed or less motivated to carry out daily activities.
It is important to note that we are not helpless. We can choose our response to any given situation, and there are things we can do to take care of our mental health in the face of uncertainty.
Coping with the unknown
You also may feel as if things are completely beyond your control. You do not have all the answers, and all you can do is wait. With that come additional stressors. While this time can be difficult, remind yourself of what you know and can control, and then create a plan to move forward. Consider some of the following tips that were given during the support sessions:
Seek information. Stay informed with up-to-date details regarding your return to campus on the JHU Coronavirus Information website. Get reliable information from additional trusted sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, and your local public health authorities. Avoid engaging in conversations with misinformation as this can lead to increased worry.
Be flexible. When you are in circumstances you cannot change, you need to be as flexible as possible. Take things day by day, or even hour by hour. In communicating with your teams, be as transparent as possible about workplace decisions.
Focus on what's within your control. Shift the focus from what you cannot control to what you can, bringing back a sense of empowerment. Remember that you are responsible for how you respond and the energy you bring into a space.
Do what helps you feel safe. This will be different for everyone. Establish your boundaries and respect the boundaries of those around you.
Identify irrational and negative thoughts, and reframe. Negative thoughts can be stopped and reframed with a helpful alternative in order to decrease stress and feelings of uncertainty. Change the thought We are never going to get through this to We WILL get through this, and I know what I need to do today. Create a list of positive thoughts that can be brought up when feeling negative.
Check in with yourself and each other. It is hard to encourage others when you are feeling discouraged. Take care of yourself and show empathy. As you interact with your co-workers, keep in mind that many people have lost loved ones, family members, and friends, and may still be grieving those losses. Expect to see a full range of emotions from yourself and others and know that is a part of the adjustment process. Allow yourself and your co-workers the grace necessary to navigate the return to campus.
Readjust … again. If this period of time has taught us anything, it is that human beings are resilient and capable of adjusting and readjusting as needed. As you reenter the workplace, time management will be crucial, especially as you add commutes and social interaction with co-workers back into your day. Also, think about the strengths that you used to pivot to remote work and leverage them to readjust while returning to the workplace.
Manage stress and worry. Set boundaries to preserve work/life balance and respect for individual comfort levels. Practice in-the-moment anxiety-reducing techniques, such as meditations, body scans, and deep breathing. Make time for relaxation. Bring your attention to your breath and body. Focus on what you see, hear, smell, and feel in your body. Breathe slowly in and out until you feel calmer. Get enough good sleep. Try to keep a sleep schedule, stay away from your electronics an hour before bed, and make your bedroom comfortable and quiet. Get moving, go for a walk, do some yoga, or just dance it out. Eat well and make healthy choices. Be grateful and take time every day to recognize the positives in your life. Find what works for you to help reduce anxiety and stress when returning to campus.
Change is always hard. But COVID-19 has brought new meaning to the word "change." Remember that you are not alone with your stress, worry, and feelings of uncertainty. It can be comforting to share what you are experiencing with your colleagues and those trained to help.
mySupport will continue to host return-to-campus support groups throughout the month of September to help employees and managers through this transition. If your department is seeking additional assistance, managers can reach the mySupport onsite clinical team by calling 443-997-7000, Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., to get information about having a mySupport clinician come to your department to lead a team support session.
Managers: Join one of the following virtual return-to-campus support groups for managers to discuss how best to support your teams as we transition back to campus.
- Thursday Sept. 23, at noon
- Wednesday, Sept. 29, at noon
Employees: Join one of the following virtual return-to-campus support groups for employees to get the support and resources you need to help you stay resilient and cope with stress and anxiety as you transition back to campus.
- Friday, Sept. 24, at noon
- Tuesday, Sept. 28, at noon
Registration links and additional information are available on the mySupport website.
Need more resources?
Resources for Living offers additional information and resources in support of return to work. Username: JHU. Password: JHU.
Make your mental well-being a priority. Johns Hopkins' employee assistance program, mySupport, is available 24/7, 365 days a year, for you and your household family members. Call mySupport at 443-997-7000, option 2, for free, confidential help and referrals for any emotional or mental health concerns you may have.