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What is Re-Entry Trauma and How is it Impacting Us?

If you asked someone a year ago if they wanted to return to “normal,” it’s likely the answer would be “yes” before you were even able to finish the question. Maybe you would’ve been met with, “Is that even a question?! Of course, I want to go back to normal!”. If you asked that same person the same question today, you may be met with a different response. Human beings are incredibly adaptable and resilient and after a year of living this new lifestyle we have adapted this as our new “normal.” Suddenly, the thought of speaking to people in person instead of on Zoom, giving each other hugs instead of waving from 6 feet apart, and returning to gatherings, whether social or for work, seems incredibly daunting. As many of us begin to be faced with the reality of returning to work and social obligations such as weddings, it’s normal to be uncomfortable and anxious. Change is hard, even if it’s something we believe should be a positive change. 

Over the past year, it’s safe to say, people’s opinions on the ideal work setup have changed. While it felt normal to go into the office 5 days a week for 8+ hours a day, that no longer feels necessary or ideal. We’ve seen that we can work from the comfort of our homes, without having to commute, while staying in our sweatpants, and are able to be equally as productive. In a recent study of U.S employees, it was found that nearly half of respondents want to engage in a hybrid model, working both at home and at work throughout the week. In addition, 47% of employees said they were likely to leave their current jobs if a hybrid model were not to be offered. As employees make their stance known, companies will be faced with the decision of how to proceed. 

While we may understand these changes are something we feel strongly about, we may not understand why. An event in itself is not traumatic. What makes something a trauma is how an individual responds to that event. For many of us, this past year has been experienced as a trauma. “Anytime you experience a traumatic event, your return to the everyday world after healing is called re-entry.” While this transition can be easy for some, for many of us we may experience re-entry trauma. Re-entry trauma is “where the adjustment to the new normal causes anxiety, insecurity, depression and perhaps even re-traumatization.” While this may sounds discouraging and upsetting, understanding what we’re feeling and why can be incredibly helpful in coping with these symptoms. 

First and foremost, it’s incredibly important to be patient with ourselves and others. Transitions are hard. Change is hard. Re-entering the world after enduring an ongoing trauma is incredibly difficult. It’s important to create a safe and peaceful environment when returning back to the office. Being in a space with a lot of noise and stimulation can send us into sensory overload leading to quicker burnout or exhaustion. If possible, implement multiple, short breaks into your daily routine. Trauma is a very destabilizing experience so incorporating breaks into your day can allow you to ground yourself and take a few deep breaths in order to feel more physically and mentally stable. It’s also important to advocate for yourself and your needs. If you feel you’ve benefited from working at home, talk to your supervisor, let them know how you feel and why you have that perspective. By bringing up some achievements or accomplishments from the past year, you’re better able to articulate why having a hybrid model is beneficial for you and your work. 

Overall, change is incredibly difficult. It’s important to remember that this is an experience we’ve all gone through together. While it has impacted everyone differently, it has impacted everyone. Being kind to ourselves and others gives people the permission to be kind to themselves and others as well. There is no right or wrong way to transition back into a new, new normal. By being honest, taking things slowly, advocating ourselves, and supporting others, we set ourselves up best for success. 

If you’ve found yourself struggling with anxiety related to returning to work or social functions, it may be useful to try counseling in Chicago. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled therapists today!

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