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Why You're So Anxious About Going Back to the Office

Date: 09/01/21

Many employees feel anxious about going back to the office, and it doesn't mean you're fragile or have poor coping skills. But, unfortunately, there are good reasons that these types of transitions spike our anxiety. So we've come up with a few tips for navigating the shift as smoothly as possible. These tips may help you better understand the perspectives of your colleagues and how they may be navigating the transition back, too.

1. Change naturally spikes our anxiety.

We're wired to be more on edge in unfamiliar situations and constantly on the lookout for dangers. Because of this, transitions/change tend to increase our anxiety as we keep vigilant for potential threats, and it can feel quite exhausting. On the other hand, we feel safer with familiar situations that tend to be more predictable, allowing us to let our guard down. Give yourself the same self-compassion you would if you were starting a new job. Think about how you've felt in your first six months as a new employee and the challenges of learning new skills, procedures and adapting to the cultural environment. If you are returning to your old job, expect to feel the same type of adjustment stress. Remember that a lot has changed, and it's essential to be kind to yourself and practice resilience.

2. Avoiding situations/places leads to increased anxiety

We feel anxious about anything we've been avoiding, even if it is externally imposed. For example, you may feel anxious about making small talk or managing other people's personalities at work. Or, tasks that were part of your family's routine before, such as being separated from your children during work hours, can bring a lot of anticipatory anxiety. What's the solution? Your built-up anxiety will naturally subside when you gradually get back into your previous activities.

3. Social relationships and boundaries have changed.

The best advice to navigate changes/transitions in the workplace is tolerance, acceptance, and refraining from gossip. Most likely, during pre-pandemic, you didn't know about coworker's health decisions or had an insight into their personal lives. It's important to remember each employee's circumstances and natures are different, so your perspective won't be identical to someone else's. For example, some coworkers may be thrilled to get back to the office and find it helps their productivity, whereas others may feel the reverse. Therefore, it's essential to focus on yourself and lead by example; this allows for a more positive work environment and reduces anxiety levels for yourself and others.

4. Retain the best parts of WFH and office life.

You might have learned a lot about what helps and hurts your productivity. For example, you may have realized you need two monitors instead of one or a larger screen instead of a laptop. Or, you might've found yourself eating healthier lunches at home and taking more walks and breaks. Our environment significantly influences our behavior and habits. Good habits that feel solid and well-established when working from home (like lunchtime walks/breaks or healthy lunches) may become fragile when your environment has shifted back to the office. Habits need consistent cues, which may no longer be present or at least not in the same way. Try establishing these habits almost from square one as if they were new habits. Did you develop new methods for getting work done? Did you develop better ways of communicating with others? What did you miss about seeing your coworkers in person? Think about new ways you can still incorporate new healthy habits into the office setting. 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Please always follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Programs and services are subject to change. Managed Health Network, LLC (MHN) is a subsidiary of Health Net, LLC. The MHN companies include Managed Health Network and MHN Services, LLC. Health Net and Managed Health Network are registered service marks of Health Net, LLC or its affiliates. All rights reserved.