After the longest year and a half of our lives, many of us are now being told that it’s time to go back into the office and work in-person.
You might have mixed feelings about it. Maybe part of you is dreading returning to the daily commute, but another part is excited to have some human interaction in your life again. But one emotion that almost all of us who are returning to the office are feeling is anxiety.
Some people might be anxious about the actual virus; what about the new variants?, you might be thinking. Am I really going to be safe in a crowded office? For others, the anxiety may be more about social interactions. What if I forgot how to have a basic conversation?
Whatever your anxiety is about, there are ways to beat it so you can go back to the office as a better version of your former self. Here are 5 things you can do to feel less nervous about returning to in-person work.
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First, don’t dive all the way in on your first way back. Plan ahead so you have the opportunity to start slowly adjusting back to the idea of in-person work.
Think carefully about the logistics. Do you have any choice over your schedule, and if you do, what do you want it to look like? Do you want to change anything about your work day 一 like the transportation you use to get there, for example? Maybe you used to drive to work, but you’ve found an appreciation for fresh air during the pandemic and would rather ride your bike now.
Whatever you decide, hings don’t need to go back to exactly the way they were before you started working from home. And by planning out any changes that need to be made, you can limit the possibility of any unpleasant surprises coming your way on your first day back.
Some specific ideas to plan head for your return to work are:
- Update your work wardrobe
- Plan out your outfit the night before
- Start adjusting your sleep schedule
- Buy a day planner or plan out your first week on a digital calendar
- Make sure you’re familiar with the routes to get to the office
Talk to your colleagues and supervisors, and find out what’s going on. Going back into the office with no idea of what the dynamics will be like - Will everyone be there at once, or will you work in shifts? Do you need to wear masks if you’re vaccinated? - will only cause you to be more anxious about your return.
Try to become informed on what exactly the return to the office will look like. Consider emailing your direct supervisor to ask any questions you may have. If you’re a leader or supervisor, you can do your part to manage anxiety by making sure that solid and up-to-date information goes out to help people return to the office in an orderly and calm fashion.
A common irrational thinking trap that we all tend to fall into is called catastrophizing, and it’s when we jump straight to the worst-case scenario or make mountains out of molehills.
Catastrophizing makes our already high levels of anxiety even worse. If you find yourself jumping to the worst-case scenario about your return to work, catch yourself. Replace the unhelpful thought with a positive and more accurate one.
For example, if you find yourself thinking, “If I go into the office, then I’ll probably catch the Delta variant 一 and then I might get really sick and die,” recognize that this is an exaggerated, catastrophizing thought. Don’t fall into the trap. Some more helpful thoughts to repeat to yourself are:
- My job told me that they were taking measures to protect my safety.
- I have the vaccine, so it’s much less likely that I’ll die from the virus.
- I have control over what social distancing practices I want to maintain.
- I don’t know what will happen. I can’t read the future. All I can do is my best.
- If I’m uncomfortable with something, then I can speak up.
Look at the Positives
What are you looking forward to when you go back to in-person work? What have you missed the most from your workplace? Look for those things - the positives about going back to work - and try to focus on them.
It doesn’t matter how “small” or insignificant these positive things feel in the face of everything else. For example, maybe you’re excited to spend every lunch break with your work best friend. Maybe you have a beautiful view from your office window. Maybe you’ve missed your clients, and it hasn’t been the same seeing them online. Maybe the things you focus on are even smaller than that 一 like getting to see the office dog, having access to free coffee all day, or simply having a reason to get out of the house.
Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. Focusing on the positive and “counting one’s blessings” has a large evidence base in the field of positive psychology, and we know it makes us happier and more fulfilled overall.
Be Patient with Yourself
Lastly, be patient and kind with yourself. Anxiety and nervousness about the return to work is something that we are all facing right now. You’re not weird or dramatic for feeling this way; this is a totally normal and human reaction to such a sudden change after such a strange and scary year. For so long, we were told that home was the only place we were safe 一 and now, we’re being told to leave it.
If your anxiety stays with you during your first few days (or even weeks) of being back in-person, try not to get frustrated with yourself. The past year and a half has brought uncertainty, grief, and fear that none of us had experienced ever before. It’s natural that it would be difficult to make this transition.
If the anxiety and nervousness about going back to in-person work is affecting your day-to-day functioning, it may be helpful to see a mental health therapist. A therapist can help you to process your feelings, identify the underlying causes of what’s behind your feelings, and help you equip yourself with coping skills so you can return to the office stronger and more resilient than ever.