Fall is flying by, and you can feel the energy as many people are back in the office, either hybrid or full-time. Although it finally feels like we may be entering a post-pandemic era, do we feel like we are actually back to normal again?
Perhaps it is the looming concern that we do not know if more restrictions are around the corner. We have seen COVID-19 cases ebb and flow over the past couple of years, with many delayed “return-to-office” plans as new variants changed the nature of the pandemic. This stop-start cycle is likely why there is still a sense that employees are on edge regarding how the coming months will unfold.
There is also a disparity between those who are eager to be back in person for events and others who feel much more cautious about jumping deep into the swing of things. Some employees might be looking forward to reconnecting with colleagues for lunches and social gatherings. Meanwhile, others have caretaking responsibilities for vulnerable family members that must take full priority.
Overall, this period of ongoing uncertainty and transitioning back to “normal life” may come with a sense of feeling overwhelmed. Given that both one’s personal and work life are now more intertwined than pre-pandemic, it is essential to ensure that all life roles are running at an optimal level. How one feels in their personal life may affect how they perform at work, ultimately affecting their career development.
Is there now a risk of social overload?
Turning to the social and psychological impacts of COVID-19, many people might even be experiencing a subconscious fear of saying no to social events, as we do not know when the pandemic truly will be over. The fear that more restrictions will occur may loom at the back of some people’s minds, resulting in hesitancy to say no to any social invite or event. As a result, they find themselves packing their schedule with coffee chats, meet-ups, weekend hikes and work lunches.
“Given that both one’s personal and work life are now more intertwined than pre-pandemic, it is essential to ensure that all life roles are running at an optimal level.”
At first, it is exciting and feels good to be back to normal activities. Yet, with full schedules, our energy and stamina to maintain this intense socialization may be waning. It may feel as though the pendulum has now swung to the other extreme; an increased social overload resulting in the treadmill feeling of trying to keep up with our lives.
An important component of career development is recognizing how to maintain a lifestyle that gives us the energy to fulfill both our work and life roles. Therefore, establishing your personal boundaries and recognizing your own limits is vital to ensuring a healthy and sustainable work-life and career.
How do we handle this current social overload to ensure our long-term career health?
1) Let go of the need for control of the future
One of the most critical components of managing today’s social overload is recognizing that we do not know what the future holds. While this idea is unnerving, concerning, and anxiety-provoking for some, letting go of that need for control is the first step to overcoming our fear. Despite what life throws at us, taking every day as it comes is essential for maintaining that sense of balance and stability. Recognizing that we can’t predict the future state of COVID-19, but we can control how we react and where we put our focus each day, will ultimately determine how we feel. How we go about our daily lives, such as taking care of our mental, emotional, and physical well-being, will be vital long-term for surviving through this uncertainty.
2) Daily check-ins – Ask yourself how you are really doing
Checking in with ourselves and taking the time out of our hectic days to reflect on how we are really doing is the key to not feeling overwhelmed. As schedules become increasingly packed, remember that everyone has their limit on how much they can accomplish in a day. Knowing and recognizing our limits is vital for avoiding burnout. It can be easy to go through the whole day moving between different tasks, quick catchups with colleagues and running to the next meeting. Yet taking a two-minute break to reflect on how you are feeling can be essential for feeling grounded. A daily mindfulness or meditation practice can strongly help in this regard. Apps like CALM and Insight Timer can be used throughout the day to stop and check in with yourself, providing guided meditation you can do on the spot in your office chair.
3) Be okay with saying no
Despite that itch to constantly say yes to every event, think about what is truly important to you and how you want to spend your time. Prioritize your options by reflecting on which relationships matter most and what events are nice-to-have versus a high priority. Maybe the pandemic has been a good opportunity to reassess your life in terms of how you want to structure your free time. Ask yourself:
- What do you value most when it comes to physical activity?
- Which hobbies or methods of relaxing bring you the most joy?
- Which friends “fill your bucket” rather than drain or deplete your energy?
Perhaps saying ‘yes’ to everything is not the answer anymore. Instead, you may need to be more selective in how you spend your free time, including which friends or co-workers you get together with or what activities you do only because you feel obligated or guilty.
These tips are designed to be easily implementable into a busy workday to ensure that people do not experience social overload, which could negatively impact our work productivity and longer-term career development.
A message for the introverts
Some people might strongly feel the urge not to go back to the way life was before the pandemic. Perhaps staying at home and enjoying the alone time was a silver lining of COVID. Now, having to socialize and interact with colleagues, friends and family can be extremely overwhelming.
Remember that many others are in the same boat, and you are not alone. Likely, you have a colleague who feels the same way. Use this opportunity to push yourself outside your comfort zone while also remaining true to yourself. Do not be afraid to block off evenings or weekend days where you schedule some ‘me time’ and deliberately choose to spend time alone.
Be kind to yourself
Wherever you find yourself feeling in this ‘new yet not quite normal’ post-pandemic period, embrace the idea of self-compassion. This concept, coined by psychologist Dr. Kristen Neff, is rooted in the idea that we need to direct the same kindness, care and compassion toward ourselves that we would typically convey toward a loved one who is suffering. At the core of self-compassion is the idea of treating ourselves kindly when things go wrong. Embrace this notion and consider how being more self-compassionate can help you during this time of transition.