Patient with Social Anxiety: “ I have been preparing for quarantine my whole life. This is easy for me.”
We have become familiar with FOMO, or fear of missing out. It’s a term that has been coined often with regard to social media, such as feeling pangs of jealousy or loss when we are not included in what looks like a series of wonderful activities, relationships, and vacations enjoyed by friends and family members. ￼￼ We also know that the apparent fun is often greatly exaggerated.
One thing that has come under a necessary spotlight during this pandemic is the importance of our well-being. Not just physical, but also our mental and emotional well-being. A key component of building healthy relationships with friends, colleagues, and employers￼ is creating psychological safety and trust, whether that be at home, social events, or in the workplace.
FOGO, or fear of going out, has become one of the main concerns that my patients now bring to me.￼
Like most aspects of anxiety, symptoms can range from milder contextual worries, to a potentially debilitating and disabling disorder￼. ￼
Recently, a close friend resigned from an organizational position because of safety concerns regarding corporate upper level management’s insistence on large gatherings, IRL. Similarly, one of my patients had to fight for her need to work (actually very efficiently), from the home, because she did not want to expose elderly parents and vulnerable family members to potential harm. In both of these cases, the goals of the organization could easily have been met by working virtually.￼￼ At times, family members can also put pressure on individuals to attend weddings or events where they don’t feel comfortable with illness exposure, but don’t feel like they can say no.
So, how do we create organizational and personal cultures that support others, both internally and externally?
Some of the key factors:
-What are the goals, and how can they be met?
In a culture of extroverts, many people assume that face-to-face meetings are the only way to facilitate communication and camaraderie. While I see half my patients virtually and half in the office, all have expressed satisfactory therapeutic experiences. ￼￼￼ finding creative ways of getting goals met shows care, facilitates trust, and increases teamwork.￼
You cannot overcommunicate about health and safety. Being able to express and respond appropriately to fears on personal matters such as health worries and/or immunosuppressed family members￼￼ makes a huge difference in building trust and teamwork in any organization.
Be supportive of fears or concerns in helping individuals transition back into schedules that work with individual needs. For example, I have several clients in the hospitality industry who believe that they have been rushed back to work, and felt that money is more important than people in their particular organizations.
Reassure employees as often as needed, and provide information on all the potential supports and resources they have access to. This should be an ongoing process.
-No ‘one size fits all’
Even though we are ‘all in this together’, we are going through different experiences and concerns. Many frontline staff in the health, service, and hospitality industries have felt tremendous pressure and anxiety. There are few things more scary than feeling that you will be terminated from your job if you don’t show up, thereby potentially jeopardizing your health.
One of my work colleagues who tested positive for Covid reported that she felt a tremendous sense of shame, as if she had somehow done ‘something wrong,’ despite her precautions. Patients have also told me that they were “outed” at work, and their health was discussed freely￼, without their consent.￼
FOGO is real. We already know that over the past year, there has been one of the most significant spikes in anxiety disorders and clinical depression this country has ever seen. From organizational and collegial support, expectations of productivity, to access to mental health services,￼ these concerns cannot be ignored. Fluid situations require mental flexibility￼. ￼