Psycho-social factors & return to work

Returning to work is a process – not an event.  The process begins before you arrive back on the job, and continues throughout the on-the-job experience. There are many factors that will contribute to a successful return to work, including psychosocial health.

Psychosocial health refers to the connection between one’s social well-being and one’s individual thoughts and behaviours. It has to do with how someone is feeling about their day-to-day life, and how they are coping and managing, as well as their ability to maintain a healthy routine and outlook.

You may be experiencing some challenges that are influencing both your perceived ability to return to work and your psychosocial health, such as:

  • Having a driver’s license suspended
  • Currently not being able to work
  • Worrying about income security
  • Fear about the future and the unknown progress of recovery
  • Contact with family and friends becoming difficult or changing
  • Daily activities being challenging to keep up with
  • Becoming exhausted trying to educate others and articulate how you are feeling

If you are managing a brain injury and coping with these challenges, overall awareness of your psychosocial health and your ability to engage with others – which includes your workplace – may need to be addressed. It takes energy, effort, focus and motivation to engage with the return to work process. At this stage, it may feel like reconnecting with your workplace will be too daunting a task to undertake, and the transition towards this may seem out of reach.  You may run into new challenges, and it may impact the way you perceive yourself and your abilities. This could affect your confidence, energy, or desire to engage in the return to work process.

This is understandable. With so many factors coming into play, how can you deal with these challenges, maintain a positive and healthy outlook, and at the same time think about planning for a return to work?  Are these goals even compatible?  

With some adjustments, and support, they absolutely can be compatible. It is possible to treat your psychosocial health and move towards your return to work by taking the following steps:

  1. Record any challenges you are experiencing. Be specific as possible
  2. Identify any trends in the challenges, and group these together
  3. Prioritize which areas you would like to address first
  4. Establish some goals to work towards over the short and long-term

A significant benefit to addressing psychosocial health is that it takes an integrated look at various aspects of well-being overall.  If you are experiencing challenges in one area, it’s more than likely you will be experiencing them in other areas. That said, it will not be the same for everyone. Just as a brain injury is unique to each individual, so is psychosocial health. 

The key is to take some time to determine how the changes you are dealing with are affecting you, and to look at those areas that may require attention. In many situations, making an adjustment in one area will lead to a positive benefit in other areas.  

Cognition & executive functioning

Two additional factors that may compound and/or have an influence on psychosocial health are cognition and executive functioning.  Cognition is another word for thinking and the process that describes how we understand and interact with the world. Cognition also describes how the brain perceives and expresses experiences. Executive functioning refers to those skills and abilities that enable us to accomplish goal-directed activities. These include the activities that we do every day, often without thinking.

Combined with any challenges you are dealing with, when cognition and/or executive functioning are not working at the level they were previous to a brain injury, it can lead to a domino effect of conditions which may include, but not be limited to:  

  • Isolation
  • Feeling vulnerable
  • Lack of confidence
  • Resentment and/or anger
  • Anxiety  
  • Signs of depression

Along with this, you may also be experiencing feelings of loss.  You may be grieving the loss of a number of things:

  • Identity and self, including aspects of your personality that may be changing
  • Family routines
  • Social life and other activities
  • Work and volunteering
  • Maintaining education and/or sports and physical activity
  • Ability to engage with others as before
  • Control 
  • Independence

It is not uncommon for individuals coping with a brain injury to feel unsure of themselves and/or uncertain about what steps to take next. The changes have been unexpected and are unwanted, and it will take time to process and adapt to the new circumstances.  

The good news is, if you allow yourself some time to acknowledge what you are experiencing, and how you are coping and feeling about things overall, you will be in a stronger position to develop a plan that will support yourself as you move forward.  

Within the context of returning to the workplace, when an individual can process and manage these losses or learn to cope with change in a healthy way, valuable energy will be freed up which can be invested and/or directed into other areas and pursuits.  

Coping with change in a healthy way

In addition to taking the steps necessary to move through your physical recovery, it is also important to take steps to ensure that your psychosocial health is being maintained. 

Seeking help and/or professional support

Should you continue to experience on-going challenges that are affecting your overall well-being, as well as your ability to function, it is important to recognize that you may need to seek help and/or request professional support.

If you need to reach out, you can receive support in different ways. This may include, but is not limited to:

  • Contacting your doctor and/or your medical care team
  • Setting up an appointment with a therapist 
  • Engaging in peer-to-peer support 
  • Accessing professional support through an Employee Assistance Program (if available)
  • Joining a support group/network
  • Researching community resources
  • Talking with a trusted family member or friend
Applying and working with the information and resources

When considering a return to the workplace, we hope this information encourages you to incorporate psychosocial health into your planning.  When this important factor is addressed and maintained, the overall benefit to your well-being, along with your ability to plan for a healthy future will be enhanced.  

Provincial and local brain injury associations are available across Canada and are ready to provide support, information, education, advocacy, and a variety of programs and services to those affected by acquired brain injury.