Let’s face it: life transitions can be stressful. Change and uncertainty trigger anxiety, and if you’ve been feeling anxious about returning to work, you’re not alone.
“Returning to the workplace may create change in people’s schedule and routine—needing to wake up earlier, to factor in time for commuting, and shifts in work/life balance, and more,” says Joyce Marter, LCPC, licensed psychotherapist and author of The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life. “Returning to work may also increase the need for childcare, pet sitting, or elder care support. Relationship conflict has increased during the pandemic and the transition back to work can trigger arguments about division of labor and scheduling priorities between partners, roommates, or family members.”
We’ve become accustomed to work from home life, and the thought of reverting to the old norm is a little daunting.
“Many people are out of practice with basic social skills and the idea of being ‘on’ for a full day of work may sound overwhelming or draining, especially for folks with more introverted tendencies,” Marter explains.
“Your mental health needs to establish clear boundaries for effectiveness and a pleasant work environment. If you do not set boundaries, it will be stressful on your job responsibilities, communication needs, management expectations, and social dynamics, says John Carnesecchi, LCSW, CEAP, Founder & Clinical Director at Gateway to Solutions.
Protect your mental health in the office with this step-by-step guide
Protect your space and energy
The first step is to get emotionally centered. “Find a safe space to process your feelings and make sense of your expectations and how you can do it. Explore your emotions, reflect, and regroup. Practice deep breathing,” Carnesecchi states.
Control your environment
To set yourself up for success, make sure your surroundings inspire productivity and keep stress at a minimum.
“For some time now, you have not been interrupted by the hustle and bustle of office disruptions,” Carnesecchi explains. “If disruptions were once a thorn in your side, properly convey to your co-workers, you'd prefer not to be unexpectedly interrupted unless necessary. Suggest a phone call, an email, or set up a time to talk. You create control in your environment.”
For example, you do not have to answer the call right away or reply to the email.
“If it isn't imperative, place it on your to-do list. In a high-demanding job, more than likely, you are disturbed at home. You have already lost that extra free time, so ask people not to call you at home after a particular hour. They need to respect your personal time,” says Carnesecchi.
Practice compassion for yourself and others
Everyone is different, and some people, including yourself, may require more time to adjust.
“Recognize that we all respond have unique stressors on our plates, respond differently to change and stress, and have various levels of comfort returning to the workplace,” Marter explains. “Practice self-compassion and reflect empathy rather than judgment, remembering that our emotions are normal responses to our nature and nurture. Be gentle with yourself and others.”
Take time to plan
How will returning to work will affect your routine? Do whatever it takes to make the process less stressful for you.
“Map out your weekly schedule and be sure to prioritize your wellbeing, including sleep, proper nutrition, exercise and time for self-care like leisure activities and hobbies,” says Marter. “Give yourself a cushion of time to transition between home and work. Think of any items or resources you may need, such as a couple outfits you feel good in or a trustworthy childcare provider.”
Create a priority list
At the beginning of each week, create a priority list of all your job responsibilities for that coming week.
“If you feel you cannot meet a deadline or are not comfortable completing a task, communicate your concerns to your boss. Collaboratively find a solution; it is ok to ask for help,” Carnesecchi states. “As anxious as some may be returning to the office environment, find the silver lining. Now is the time to revamp the old, adapt what worked for you at home, and create the norm for you. There is a healthy balance.”
Don’t be afraid to speak up when necessary. “Honor your feelings and create boundaries (limits with regard to time, space, money, workload, etc.) with work and with loved ones,” says Marter. “Find your voice and use your words.”
If you don’t speak your truth, it can lead to resentment and in some cases, burnout.
“Advocate for yourself as you would for somebody who you love very much. Communicate in a way that is honest, direct, clear, and demonstrates respect for yourself and others. Negotiate for the schedule, workload, and pay that works for you. Learn to say no as needed,” Marter explains.
Access help and support from others
Ask for what you need from the people who are capable of providing.
“If you are having issues at work, consider talking to your supervisor, HR, or your Employee Assistance Program (EAP),” Marter states. “If you are having financial stress, consider talking to a financial planner, advisor, or debt counselor, or looking into community resources and financial assistance that may be available to you. Consider seeing a counselor or therapist, which is a proactive form of self-care that will help you manage your anxiety and gain new coping skills.”
By following these steps, you’ll make the transition to the office as seamless as possible.
Are you going back to an office soon? If so, how are you feeling about it? Share your thoughts in the comments below! And while you're at it, make sure to subscribe to Silk + Sonder today.