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Ask Kari: On Transitioning Into a New Normal

By June 23, 2021General
Ask Kari Issaquah Highlands

Dear Kari,

Help! I am anxious about going back into a work environment and talking to people in person again. How do I adjust to the social dynamics of being in the office again after a year of freedom? Working from home this past year was wonderful for my anxiety. I have felt less anxious overall, especially about social exchanges where I used to struggle. I dread having to worry about carrying on small talk with my colleagues again. What do you recommend I do to get through it all?

– Dislikes Small Talk

Dear Dislikes Small Talk,

The work-from-home concept was obviously a match for you, and you have found a nice comfort zone. But you would have known the pandemic restrictions and subsequential changes would shift back slowly to the old ways of meeting people in person for work. I suggest you express gratitude for the decline in your anxiety this past year and start preparing to build your coping skills again for when you have contact with others. Just an FYI, at least half of the human population experiences awkwardness when attempting to make small talk with others. So anxiety around communicating with others at work is normal.

To help get you back into the groove of things, I suggest you put together a few open-ended questions to ask your colleagues. Some examples could be:

  • How are you?
  • What have you been up to while working from home for the past year?
  • Did you learn anything new during the pandemic?
  • What do you hope to do in the upcoming year? Where do you hope to go?

After you have conversations with others and practice your social skills, I suggest taking a break and try and practice some downtime by yourself (listen to music, read your email, eat a snack).  Best of luck, you can do it!

– Kari

Dear Kari,

How do you deal with an adult child (age 24) who refuses to get a job because of COVID and refuses to pay the rent we asked him to contribute, even though he has plenty of money to do so? We would like him to get out on his own, but he is not taking the necessary steps to do so and defiantly walks away from us when we try to talk about our desired changes for him. How can we help him change?

– Frustrated Parent

Dear Frustrated Parent,

I am sorry your family system is struggling. It is reasonable to have established agreements with an adult child who lives with you, especially around contributions to the household. Such contributions could be labor/help around the house, guidelines for visitors or a curfew (like arriving home at a reasonable hour so as not to disturb others), and a financial commitment. To rework your system, you and your partner need to review exactly what you want and map it out on paper. Follow that up with a family meeting with your son when you share the new agreement/rules with him. Make sure you give him a clear start date for the new agreement.

On the start date, prepare for success versus failure, remain calm, and allow the new system and agreement to shape itself out. If the new system has an 80-90% success rate, then you have succeeded overall. If your son chooses not to participate in the changes and agreements, notify him he will need to move out and provide him with the exact date by which he will need to move from your home. (Three months out is the longest I would offer since someone could secure a job and housing within that amount of time.)

Follow through with your plan – this is your best shot at having your son make changes in his behavior. Scrapping your plan and giving up on your stated desires will model that you are not serious about your feelings for change, and you will get the same outcome as before with no changes occurring. Be firm and keep your boundaries. Best of luck!

– Kari

Kari O’Neill, MSW, LICSW, is a licensed independent clinical social worker and the owner of Issaquah Highlands Counseling Group.

This column is for entertainment purposes only. If you are in crisis and in need of support, please contact the Crisis Clinic at 866-427-4747.

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