Do you actually want to go back to work?

As vaccines are getting administered at a rapid rate in the US, people are planning their workwear looks and companies like WeWork are gearing up to rent offices galore, and like people are excited to go back into the office, and back in the real world.

You might be thinking, everyone else seems so excited to go back to in-person events. Everyone else wants to go back to work, back to hanging out at bars or being at concerts, seeing friends and family. But something in you is holding back from getting too excited about the future, and it’s not just that you’re waiting for the new variants to drive everyone back inside.

Why don’t I want to go back to work?

As to why you don’t want to go back to work, that’s an easy answer. Working from home was an absolute pleasure. Sweatpants every day, lessened commute time, increased family time or more leisure time. What’s there not to love?

But there’s a nagging feeling of hesitation that lingers in your chest when you begin pondering a return to in-person work. You try to convince yourself that you don’t have mixed feelings and that working from home was a dream come true that you don’t want to wake up from. But some of these reasons that working from home is so wonderful might actually be excuses to avoid the office.

Looking back, perhaps your commute included a morning coffee run with a cute barista, or your office wardrobe was full of fun designer items. Maybe you’re a little exhausted with family time, or leisure time, and you miss the grind of office culture. So why does going back in person seem like such a chore?

Maybe it’s that you don’t want whoever you’re living with to think you’re tired of them. Maybe you’ve gained a little quarantine weight, as most have, or you’ve given yourself a wretched at-home haircut. Or maybe there’s something a little deeper afoot.

Adjustment disorders

While it’s unlikely that every single person in the world is suffering from an adjustment disorder due to the highly stressful and sometimes traumatic environment of COVID, often psychological disorders exist on a spectrum. Symptoms can worsen to the point of pathology or hover around the point of inconvenient neurosis depending on the severity of the stressor, or of one’s reaction to it.

Hopkins Medicine defines an adjustment disorder as a maladaptation to a specific event, and though it can be hard to predict one’s reaction, or what the stressor might be, this disorder simply means that one is readjusting to their new circumstances in a way that could be dangerous or harmful to themselves. Adjustment disorders can predominantly manifest as either depression or anxiety-related, and adults are more likely to experience depression than anxiety.

There are a few examples of how an adjustment disorder can slide into a social phobia and impact the way in which you deal with the world. VeryWell Mindindicates that this could manifest in “skipping social events [or Zoom calls] you’re interested in because you think you’ll feel awkward,” turning down a promotion because you’ll be in a more social role, or “consuming alcohol, recreational drugs, or other substances to curb anxiety.” If this sounds like you during the past year, perhaps you haven’t adjusted to quarantine as well as you might think.

You can’t ‘check out’ in real life

Live Science posits that in the “decoupling hypothesis,” the brain “decides that nothing too important, difficult or dangerous is happening out there, and cuts the connection” between the external world and your internal perceptions. In less scientific terms, this is simply called letting your mind wander.

The chemical basis of this phenomenon is rumored to start in the portion of the brain called the “locus coeruleus-norepinephrine (LC-NE) system, which controls attention and the response to stress or stimulation;” without norepinephrine, the hormone that influences your adrenal response to stimuli, you might be more prone to zoning out.

Norepinephrine, or noradrenaline, increases heart rate and gets the blood pumping – not a bad thing, as it can be released during exercise, intercourse, or a taxi ride from JFK to Midtown Manhattan. Without this little neurochemical pep in your step every so often, you might feel sluggish or inattentive, and as we’re all aware, it’s rare to feel a heart-pounding, sweaty and exhausting thrill over a Zoom meeting about budgeting.

Lowered frustration tolerance

The last reason you could be avoiding in-person exchanges is that your frustration tolerance has been lowered. Let’s face it – we’ve all muted more than one Zoom meeting, had our cameras off, turned off the TV or stopped texting a friend because we found the topics overwhelming, and didn’t feel like getting upset that day.

But muting something upsetting isn’t exactly something you can do in the office, and with COVID tensions high enough, people may be worried that they could either snap or break down much easier than in the past, as they very well could have spent 2020 in a mind-numbing, dissociated haze.

VeryWell Mind mentions that, if severe enough, this lack of frustration tolerance can become pathological, and you might need mental health treatment. “You may start avoiding certain friends or family members because you don’t want to be “forced” to do things you don’t want to do,” or you could be going to far-reaching lengths to avoid anxiety-provoking situations that could prevent you from keeping your mind sharp and continuing to foster “fundamental social skills needed to effectively communicate with other people.”