FacebookFacebook icon TwitterTwitter icon LinkedInLinkedIn icon Email
Personal development brain circuits

Brain circuits

Managing mixed emotions coming back to the office: Part 1 of 3

Published 26 April 2021 in Brain circuits ‚ÄĘ 3 min read

As things get back to normal, we will see at least some work travel and some converging in offices once again. 

It will give rise to a great deal of positive emotions, as teams enjoy social contact once more. But it will also see the surfacing of tensions. 

These can be broken into coming out of isolation, impulse control on the part of leaders and vaccination haves and have nots.  

Coming out of isolation 

Emerging from isolation and dipping our toes into¬†social situations again has its parallels with army troops coming back from war and¬†fearing¬†entering society¬†anew. Our skin is very thin, and our senses heightened.¬†One of my clients said that¬†coming out of isolation felt ‚Äúa bit like flying blind.‚Ä̬†

The crux of the problem comes from feeling as if you’re still in danger, even when you’re not.  

When soldiers come back from combat, they often struggle with reactions in which their bodies still react like they were in a war zone. Adjusting to hearing loud sounds like fireworks and not connecting them with active battle takes time and effort.  

Similarly, health experts have¬†told¬†us¬†that if we don‚Äôt wear masks and get¬†vaccinated¬†we risk dying. But feeling anxious doesn’t mean that you are in danger.¬†The solution lies in¬†training¬†your nervous system to recognize¬†this.¬†¬†

Here are 5 questions you can ask yourself, to help initiate activities that will support this: 

  1. Have you(re)created your‚ÄĮ‚Äúsafe space‚ÄĚ?¬†

If you are working in an office that you haven’t seen for a year you might want to add things that help you relax and make you feel good: plants, photos of loved ones or pets, or your personal favorite mug. Make an effort to eat lunch with colleagues you already know so that you feel safe and among friends. Engage in office chatter again. 

  1. Are you helping your colleagues?‚ÄĮ¬†

I need a break ‚Äď or even more importantly:¬†‚Äúyou need a break‚ÄĚ. In the military you call this ‚Äúto command sleep‚ÄĚ. We are predisposed to thinking¬†about leadership as commanding¬†action ‚Äď doing something.

However,¬†battle psychology¬†tells us¬†that¬†‚Äúcommanding inaction‚ÄĚ ‚Äď rest, skipping a routine, staying put ‚Äď is just as important.¬†¬†

You¬†become stronger by helping others.¬†From battle psych we know that¬†those¬†soldiers who do best help their friends.¬†So, try to think¬†of something that would be helpful to your¬†colleagues.‚ÄĮFor instance,¬†call¬†five¬†colleagues and have a 10minute conversation with¬†each¬†about their wellbeing ‚Äď asking not¬†‚Äėare¬†you OK?‚Äô but ‚Äėare you¬†really¬†OK?‚Äô¬†

  1. Find‚ÄĮand‚ÄĮvisit your sanctuary‚ÄĮ

Leading through a crisis you need a sanctuary where you can reflect, re-energize and recalibrate. 

It’s about connecting with the activities, relationships and hobbies that give you pure joy and energy and allowing others space for the same. 

Sometimes those sanctuaries are the first we give up under pressure. In NATO units it was mandatory to exercise and especially during crises.   

  1. Are you dealing with survivors’ guilt? 

Feelings of guilt are very common right now¬†based on questions such as:¬†Why didn‚Äôt I get sick? Why did I keep my job when others didn‚Äôt? You may¬†even¬†end up believing that your actions,¬†or inability to act,¬†led to someone else‚Äôs distress.‚ÄĮ¬†¬†

Don‚Äôt try to deny that the feeling of guilt is there. Instead ask yourself:‚ÄĮIs the¬†amount¬†of¬†responsibility¬†I¬†am¬†assuming¬†reasonable?¬†Could¬†I¬†really¬†have¬†prevented¬†lay¬†offs?‚ÄĮDid¬†I¬†do¬†my¬†best¬†at the time, under¬†the¬†circumstances?¬†

  1. Are you moving your body? 

It’s so obvious yet so often neglected and so powerful: reconnect with your exercise regime if you haven’t done so. Start slowly to ease yourself into a new rhythm. 

Remember, healing doesn‚Äôt mean that you‚Äôll forget all about‚ÄĮthe‚ÄĮpandemic. And it doesn‚Äôt mean you‚Äôll have no regrets. What it does mean is that you‚Äôll come to see the part you played in perspective.¬†¬†

Further reading: 

There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing by Adam Grant (The New York Times) 


Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg

Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg

Adjunct Professor at IMD

Dr. Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg is a clinical psychologist who specializes in organizational psychology. As an executive advisor, she has more than two decades of experience developing executive teams and leaders. She runs her own business psychology practice with industry-leading clients in Europe and the US in the financial, pharmaceutical, consumer products and defense sectors, as well as family offices. Merete is the author of the book Battle Mind: How to Navigate in Chaos and Perform Under Pressure.


Learn Brain Circuits

Join us for daily exercises focusing on issues from team building to developing an actionable sustainability plan to personal development. Go on - they only take five minutes.
Read more 

Explore Leadership

What makes a great leader? Do you need charisma? How do you inspire your team? Our experts offer actionable insights through first-person narratives, behind-the-scenes interviews and The Help Desk.
Read more

Join Membership

Log in here to join in the conversation with the I by IMD community. Your subscription grants you access to the quarterly magazine plus daily articles, videos, podcasts and learning exercises.
Sign up

You have 4 of 5 articles left to read.