The American Psychological Association recently found that 49 percent of adults feel uncomfortable returning to in-person interactions—including in office settings. And as more and more companies start toying with the idea of opening up, it’s super normal to feel uneasy about the prospect of abandoning your safe little work from home bubble. That’s why we checked in with Dr. Sherry Benton, a psychologist and founder/chief science officer of TAO Connect, a company committed to reducing mental health disparities by bringing, affordable, effective and accessible treatment to people who have had limited access in the past. Here are some of her tips for coping with anxiety as you head back to an office.
1. If You’re Anxious About Safety Guidelines…Make Sure to Stay Informed
Knowledge is power, y’all. “Continue to get all the information you can from your company about what precautions they’re taking and how they plan to keep workers safe,” Benton urges. “When you’re armed with knowledge that your company is taking the safety of its employees seriously, it can provide you with a sense of relief.” Oftentimes, anxiety is worsened by the unknown, meaning that keeping yourself informed is crucial. Also, be open with your colleagues. Benton suggests that if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the transition back to the office, have a conversation with your manager about steps you can take to make the transition easier, or how the company can support you.
2. If You’re Anxious About Your Work-Life Balance…Practice Setting Boundaries
“If you find it hard to set boundaries and are worried about doing so, plan ahead by envisioning workplace situations that could give you anxiety, then decide what you could say in those situations and practice saying it,” Benton suggests. She urges that healthy boundaries are a crucial component of self-care, and you can practice them before returning to the office by deciding what you want and what you’re comfortable with, and normalize saying no or stating what you need without over-explaining or apologizing.
3. If You’re Anxious Because You've Really Liked Working from Home…Try Remembering the Great Parts of Office Life
Yes, it can be super stressful to imagine a return to the office after so long, but there are also plenty of things to look forward to. “When it comes to returning to the workplace, think about the people you’re excited to see, the new pictures you can’t wait to put on your desk or resuming Friday happy hours with your coworkers,” Benton says. “Take time to write down those positive elements so you can revisit that list when you struggle to feel positive.”
4. If You’re Anxious That You Haven’t Fully Processed the Past Year…Allow Yourself to Grieve
It’s been an incredible difficult 15 months, and it’s important to recognize all that you’ve been through. “Grief plays a large role in returning to the workplace and ‘normal’ everyday life,” Benton tells us. “If you’ve suffered a devastating loss over the past year, allow yourself to grieve; it’s a critical, natural part of healing.” If you experienced loss related to the pandemic, you might feel triggered if someone at work gets a cold or the flu, or angry when you feel like people don’t understand what you’re going through. “It can be very useful to talk to a therapist or counselor to separate grief from personal anxiety, as well as identify the ways you can reduce it so you can get out and function in the world,” she notes. If one of your coworkers has lost someone close to them during the pandemic, it’s normal to feel unsure about how you should approach them. Benton stresses that talking is key. “Don’t pretend that it never happened; acknowledge it by telling your coworker that you care and ask what you can do for them. Make sure to check in on them regularly, as their feelings can truly change from moment to moment.”