Managing Stress as you Head Back into the Office

Uncategorized Apr 09, 2021

Could it be true? Is the end actually in sight? With the vaccination roll-out moving right along and numbers, for the most part, trending in the right direction, many states are starting to fully open the economy. Before we know it, we will all be back to business as usual. Of course, it won’t be the old “usual.” It will be a new normal, which is partly why this is all so confusing. 

Many have been back to work for some time. Others never stopped working, especially health care and essential workers, but soon everyone who is returning back to in-person work will be back in the office, for better or for worse. Some companies might continue offering remote opportunities, and I hope that many have learned new, and in some cases, better ways to find creative solutions that benefit both the company and the employees. If nothing else, we have become experts in shifting and adapting to new circumstances, so remember that and bring that new skill with you as you reenter the workplace.

The first thing I want you to know is that it is completely normal to experience anxiety around the unknown and throughout change, even more so now with Covid still being a factor. Your anxiety might be Covid-related or being separated from your family with whom you may have been home for the past year. Other considerations might be kids going back to school, finding new childcare solutions, leaving a pet alone for the first time in a long time, commuting in traffic again, socializing, and, finally, not knowing what the environment will be like upon return. With so many unknowns, it’s no wonder your anxiety levels are through the roof!

Here are five things that you can do to manage your anxiety and help you through this transition:

  1. Take as much of the unknown out of the equation as possible. We have already identified that one stressor is the unknown, so let’s get rid of as much of that as we can. Talk to your company about what Covid precautions they are taking. Talk to your boss or manager about what your day will look like and if there will be any changes from what it looks like now. Talk to an officemate who might already be back in the office to get a feeling for what things are like. If you have a chance, you can even visit the office once or twice before going back full time. Go in for a meeting or a lunch to dip your toes in before you dive in head first. 
    For the home/family side of things, make a checklist of what needs to be addressed. If you have any conflicts, such as no after-school childcare or, maybe for some, your kids are still not back in full time in-person school, or there is nobody to walk the dog, talk to your employer to see how they can work with you to ease your transition. Maybe they will allow you to leave early to pick up your children and work the last couple of hours from home. Perhaps they will be open to your coming into the office on the days that the kids are in school and work from home when they are in distance learning. They might be willing to let you bring Fido into the office. Express your concerns and see if you can work things out so that everybody wins.
  2. Keep the parts of your work-at-home routine that you have developed that work for you. Some of you have been working from home for a year now. Most likely you have gotten into a nice rhythm, and undoubtedly there are things that you will miss when you go back. See what you can bring with you! Ok, no, you can’t bring your 60” flat screen or your Peloton, but you CAN bring the healthy snacks and lunches that you have been preparing for yourself, and you CAN keep going on those walks when you need to step away. Whatever you have baked into your work at home routine that you love, see if you can replicate that in the office! And who knows, maybe your boss is open to creating a fitness room or anything else you might suggest to raise company morale. Are you noticing a theme here? Talking to your employer about making things work for everybody is key. The truth is, this is new territory for everybody, so if we all pitch in, we can really raise the workplace vibration collectively! 

    On the flip side, take advantage of office related perks that you may have missed. Maybe your office already has a fitness program or offers free meals. Lunch time acupuncture? Is there something that you think would be a great addition to the workplace perks? If so, you guessed it...let them know!

  3. Recognize stress in your own body and pay attention to the triggers. Notice what is happening when you feel that stress starting to bubble up. Is there a pattern to what is stressing you out? Identify the external triggers. Some can be avoided. For example,  if you prefer time alone rather than participating in the lunchtime banter with the team, then allow yourself to eat alone or take that walk to decompress. There are other triggers that can’t be avoided, such as those hard conversations with the boss. But you can take some deep breaths before going in, remind yourself why you are there, and recognize how valuable your contribution is to the company. 

    Once you feel the stress or anxiety settling in, take a moment to check in with your body. Where are you holding the stress? It might be a clenched jaw, raised shoulders, or your leg bouncing up and down. As you breathe deeply, focus your breath in that area or take a walk outside. Being aware of what causes the stress to surface and having some pre-selected activities to plug in during those moments will really help.

    Here is one example of an easy breathing exercise that you can do right there at your desk:     

    Abdominal Breathing: Place your right hand over your belly and your left hand over your chest. As you take a deep breath in, allow your belly to fill up and watch your right hand get pushed out as it does. When your belly feels almost full, hold for three seconds and then exhale, allowing your belly to push back in. Exhale slightly longer than your inhale. Ideal timing for this exercise is to inhale for 3 seconds, hold for 3 seconds, and exhale for 4 seconds. By making the exhale longer, you are slowing down your heart rate and sending a message to your brain that everything is ok. This will have an incredibly calming effect on your body physically if done for a few minutes.

  4. Steer clear of a negative atmosphere. Admit it, we have all been there. The boss goes into the conference room, and the rest of the team gathers together for a bitch session. It’s a slippery slope, and there is a thin line between being constructive and being just downright negative. As they say, negativity can spread like a cancer. Either take yourself out of those conversations, or try to steer it back to the constructive side of the line. Another negative trigger might be the pastries in the break room. If you know that you can’t resist, either stop your trips to the breakroom or request that healthy snacks be added to the mix--even if it means bringing some yourself. 

    You CAN take the lead on spreading positivity. Whether it’s healthy snacks or positive conversation, YOU can be the reason that others are happy to be back in the office. Let’s spread that!

  5. Talk to a professional. If you find that you are having trouble managing your stress or anxiety on your own, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional. Recent polls show that 60-70% of the workforce has concerns about going back to work. You are definitely not alone. Life is stressful as it is. Throw a global pandemic in the mix, and we are all on high alert. There is no shame in reaching out to a mental health professional to help you decide which path is right for you in order to get back on track.

Be ready for things to feel different because, initially, they will. But for the most part, once you get into the swing of things, it will be like riding a bike. This crazy upside-down year will soon be a distant memory, and you will have quickly forgotten what it was like to work alongside your kids as they logged into Zoom for school.

There have been some positives that have come out of this. Many people will continue remote work or some hybrid version that works better for everybody. Others have pivoted and figured out how to make their business thrive in a way they never thought possible. For many, this time has provided an opportunity to step back and redirect to something that aligns more closely with their core values and ideals. After all, it is times like these that remind us of what truly matters. 

Even though getting back to work is like riding a bike, once you start riding, you might find that you have outgrown that particular bike. You still have the opportunity to step back. Reflect on what it is that you want. Ask yourself some important questions about what you would like your life to look like, what you want your contribution to be, and go from there. Don’t hesitate to reach out for a coaching session whether you need help adapting in your current workplace or you are in search of a new job or career.

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