How to Manage Back-to-the-Workplace Anxiety and Stress

March 8, 2022

Return to Work Manage Aniexty and Stress

After two years of remote work for countless individuals due to the pandemic, many employees are returning to the office. While some may embrace a return to the workplace and view this as a transition back to normalcy and socialization, others may find the adjustment back to an in-person work environment overwhelming and anxiety-provoking.

“Life has significantly changed since March 2020 and many people have spent the past two years working from the comfort of their own home rather than being in the actual office,” said Kayla Lyon, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist. “While this initial adjustment was stressful for most, the length of the pandemic has introduced people to a new ‘normal’ and many have found their groove and comfort in working from home. It is absolutely normal and expected to have anxiety or mixed emotions about returning to the workplace and people should know they’re not alone in these feelings.”

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the top return-to-work sources of anxiety include: exposure to COVID-19, less flexibility and the commute to work.

Tips to help reduce return-to-work anxiety and stress:

  • Ease back into a schedule: In the days leading up to return, adjust back to an in-person work routine. Go to bed and wake up at a normal time (factoring in commute time), shower and dress for in-person work and attempt to replicate a normal in-office timeline while still at home.
  • Talk to employer: Gather as much information as possible about the status of the environment and working schedule. Ask any known questions or voice any concerns ahead of time.
  • Visit workspace before returning, if possible: Visit and tidy up the office space before it reopens – this offers the chance for a trial run and time to become acquainted with the area.
  • Plan ahead: Schedule simple, mood-boosting activities (a cup of coffee, exercise, meditation, dinner with a friend, etc.) to do before and after work.
  • Be considerate of colleagues: Be mindful of others and respect that everyone has different concerns and levels of comfort.

“Just as it took many of us time to adjust to working from home, it will take time to adjust back to working in the office and it’s important to realize that some sense of anxiousness and worry is normal,” Lyon said. “As humans, we don’t have an on/off switch and there will be an adjustment period. But if someone is experiencing prolonged anxiety or depression, fatigue, appetite changes or disrupted sleep patterns, or if someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts, they should seek medical help.”