Conquering Returning to Work Anxiety

After a year of working from home and creating a new normal with new routines and new boundaries, returning to the workplace can be a scary and unsettling, bringing about anxiety and discomfort. For the past year, we have become used to not being in social settings and being able to do everything virtually and around our families. The thought of having to leave this new “normal” and go back to the “old” can be overwhelming.

Humans are inherently social creatures: the more social we are, the more our brains are able to process emotional responses not only in ourselves, but also in others. The absence of this social interaction and the isolation and loneliness that has been experienced over the past year can not only lead to cognitive decline, but also mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. This means that we have gotten so used to interacting with fewer people and turning inward that a return to meetings, classes and in-person social events can be overwhelming initially and lead to greater anxiety.

Another aspect to consider is fear. There is no question that fear has been a big player in the past year with the uncertainty of what is happening or what will happen. It is an emotion in response to a threat that motivates us to protect ourselves: flee or withdraw. Fear can become anxiety if coping mechanisms fail and the fear remains unresolved. People are coming out of a pandemic in which there are still not a lot of clear answers to questions like “will we be safe to return to work?”, “how will work look?”, “will there be social distancing protocols in place?” There are personal issues that some may be facing as well. Coming back into a world where we will have less time with our families or what we’ve become accustomed to may have you feeling like you want something else or you are unsure if you are still happy where you are. What we need to try and remember while we take this step back into the world is to be kind to ourselves and that other people may be feeling the same challenges and anxieties. We should take this as an opportunity to be more compassionate and empathetic as we collectively struggle to enter back into social settings.

So, how can we reduce feelings of anxiety or fear about returning to work?

  1. Create a new routine. Look ahead to gain a sense of control over the future. Try revisiting your work wardrobe, dusting off your daily planner or looking up some new recipes for lunch on the go. Creating that routine can help you to be more prepared.
  2. Look for the good in returning to work to help quiet that worry and anxiety. Are there old coworkers you have missed? Old routines that will be a welcome relief?
  3. Finally, if all else fails, you can find challenging, engaging activities to absorb your attention — a process called “flow” — and help pass the time pleasantly while you wait for the “old normal” to return.

We need to remember to be patient and kind with ourselves in these times. Just as it took time for us to adjust to the change of being at home, it will take time to adjust to the change of leaving home and reentering the social world. Take time to breath and feel those emotions and remember that you are not alone in your feelings of anxiety and stress while we all navigate these new times and new normal.

This blog was written by Cassidy Peil, Crisis Specialist at Community Reach Center.