Remote work during the pandemic is not without its challenges. However, many people find it more stressful and anxiety-provoking now that they are back at the office in some capacity.
McKinsey found that 1 in 3 employees feel that going back to work has had a negative effect on their mental health. This makes them anxious and depressed.
According to Naomi Torres Mackie, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, and head of research at Mental Health Coalition, social anxiety could be the main reason that many people fear going back to work.
She explained to Healthline that connecting over Zoom is very different than connecting in person. “We are all a bit rusty when we come to our social skills, and two years into this pandemic,” she said. Partially to blame is COVID-19 anxiety that has lingered and fear of getting sick.
Torres Mackie stated that it is difficult to trust that the pandemic situation will not change and that you can return to work safely.
Change is not always easy. Pre-pandemic, most people used to leave their homes and go to work. Many workers had to adapt to remote work after the pandemic. Now, it is time to return to work.
Even positive changes can be hard. Routines provide psychological comfort. However, if a routine is disturbed, it can cause anxious cognitions, unease and worry, as well as low mood,” Torres Mackie stated.
Natasha Bowman JD, founder and CEO of the Bowman Foundation for Workplace Equity and Mental Wellness, stated that stress can also be triggered by returning to a negative workplace environment.
Bowman explained to Healthline that many people consider working at home a safe place, free from workplace politics, microaggressions and toxic work cultures. They also don’t feel the need to conform to corporate culture. These tips are from experts in health to ease stress when you return to work.
Accept your anxiety
Torres Mackie stated that anxiety can get worse if you try to resist it or make it worse by judging yourself. Accepting your feelings can help you process them.
She said, “If you are able to accept that you have difficult feelings and then normalize them for your self — many people find it stressful to return to work — then you will likely find that the difficult emotions start to decrease in intensity and frequency.”
Natalie Christine Dattilo PhD, clinical psychologist, agreed. If you feel anxious, apprehensive or nervous, it is best to not assume that something is wrong.
Gradually, you will be able to work in an office setting.
Consider starting small, adding days as you get used to the work load.
Slow, small steps are the best way to conquer fear. Torres Mackie said that you could do this by only going in for a few hours per day or by running a test on a non-workday.
Establish a routine
As you begin to return to onsite work, be consistent. Bowman suggested that you plan your work around the times and days you will be at work.
She said that a routine can reduce stress and help make it easier to transition back into the office.
Make a task-list
Make a list of tasks and deadlines that you need to accomplish when you get up in the morning.
“Keeping organized and on top will reduce stress and overwhelm during this time of adjustment.” Dattilo said that this will help you prioritize your time and effort while you are recalibrating.
Take your time to readjust
Dattilo said that it can take some time to get used to things you haven’t done for a while, such as a long commute, traffic, distractions in the office, chatty coworkers, or being close to others.
She said, “It is understandable that a portion of us will be hesitant to do things that we’ve been told are unsafe.”
Stress-relieving activities can be practiced
Torres Mackie recommended that you schedule activities that you enjoy to help you get through the transition.
She explained that this means you can receive anticipatory stress before you go to work, and residual stress after you get home from work.
Bowman also suggested that you take breaks throughout your day.
“Both to take your mind off of things and to move about. She said that taking a few moments can reduce stress and improve focus.
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Bowman advised that if returning to work is difficult because of unacceptable behavior by coworkers, or your employer’s employees, Bowman should inform them.
“If the person is your boss, report them to HR. She said that there should be zero tolerance for any workplace misconduct.
Get professional assistance
Dattilo stated that if you feel anxious, impatient, or panicky around coworkers, it will probably go away in time. Talking with a friend or relative may be helpful.
She said, “[But] if you have anxiety that persists or gets worse, please seek support or talk to your doctor.” “Other scientifically-supported self-care practices to help mitigate the effects of anxiety include regular effortful exercise, natural sleep, social connection, gratitude practice, laughter or play, and meditation for relaxation or focus.”
The bottom line
Although it can be stressful to return to work, it is possible to have coping strategies that will help you ease the transition.
“As the COVID variants heat up, the stress of going back to work will only increase. It is important to start thinking about ways you can cope with anxiety. Torres Mackie stated that if you can anticipate the feelings, you’ll be better equipped to manage them once you are actually in an anxiety-provoking situation.