Coping with a Return to the OfficeAug 31, 2021 09:31AM ● By Jolene Ross
As people return to working in an office, many are feeling anxious and overwhelmed. For some, after many months of isolation, they may be feeling anxious about returning to a social environment. For people that are not ordinarily social, it has taken years of practicing social skills to get to where they were before COVID-19 started. Now, after a year and a half of not practicing these skills, the muscle has weakened, making socializing even more difficult than it was at the start of the pandemic.
For other individuals, they may find themselves uncomfortable in their own skin and feeling self-conscious. For example, weight gain has been a common occurrence due to the more home-bound lifestyle people adopted during the pandemic.
Under ordinary circumstances, social anxiety is eased by getting back to interacting with people little by little; however, because of the Delta variant, now is not the time to start going to public places. Try staying to oneself initially at the office, and then bit by bit, behind a mask, ease into socializing to become reaccustomed to the experience. It will get easier in time.
Catching COVID-19 in the office is also a real concern. Everyone became used to the physical distancing and some people are much more comfortable with those rules in place. Now, having people back in their physical space is especially anxiety-inducing. Along with worrying about catching the virus themselves, people may be trying to protect unvaccinated loved ones at home, such as children and those that are not eligible for vaccination.
While working from home, people often worked longer hours than they would normally in the office. Now transitioning back to where the hours are more set, the expectation is for people to be equally as productive as they were during the pandemic in fewer hours. In office, employees are constantly being interrupted due to all the activity happening around them and are often unable to focus for the full eight hours. Keeping up with the workload may become a problem.
Adjusting back to commuting may be another challenge as it may feel like losing time. Everyone returning to their old lifestyle must become accustomed to juggling work, chores and other commitments on a stricter timeline. Working from home, the flexibility gave people more freedom to shuffle their hours to fit the needs of their families. Additionally, another big issue is childcare. Because children are unable to be vaccinated at this time, many childcare services are not operating.
To stay on track throughout all these transitions, people need to prioritize their mental health. Make sure to exercise regularly, going on walks, when possible, to get adequate sunlight and fresh air. Eat healthy, meaning a whole-food diet. Get enough sleep and do not over-caffeinate, as it can stimulate feelings of anxiety. Reward yourself for all the hard work with healthy incentives. If struggling emotionally, reach out for support from a mental health professional that can help guide you through the transition.
Stress management is key. Everyone, especially parents, need to build self-care time into their new schedule. Use commuting time to practice relaxation by listening to calming music to set the tone for the day. Take up meditation. There are many meditation apps and YouTube videos that make it easy to meditate if you are unsure where to start. If the family has private self-care time, try setting aside time to do something healthy like taking the whole family for a walk.
Always remember to be patient and gentle with oneself during this transition time. Remember, it took time to adjust to the new way of life during the height of COVID-19; it’s going to take time to adjust back as well. Expect to feel more tired, stressed, and/or more agitated than usual; it’s all a natural part of the returning process. It will take time, but eventually the office will return to a sense of normalcy.
Dr. Jolene Ross, Ph.D., is the founder and director of Advanced Neurotherapy, PC, located at 145 Rosemary St., in Needham. She is a neurobehavioral psychologist with extensive experience in neurobiofeedback treatment, cognitive and behavioral therapy and behavioral medicine. For more information, call 781-444-9115 or visit AdvancedNeurotherapy.com.