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How to deal with the anxiety of returning to the office

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by Charlotte Gurney

By the beginning of summer or by fall, a high percentage of people will be returning back to the office.

While it looked like a large majority of employees would work remotely, you may be asked to return - at least for a few days a week. Corporate leaders at Google, Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, Facebook, Uber and JPMorgan started informing staff about their respective plans for reopening.

For many people, this will cause a great deal of anxiety and stress. Some have strong reasons for concern. They may have health issues or family members who are at risk. Childcare remains a top concern, particularly among women with young children. We’ve become comfortable in our habits. For the last year, those who worked remotely eventually fell into a routine.

Here are some tips from Forbes on how to deal with and overcome the anxiety and stress associated with returning to the office:

It's okay to feel uncomfortable. Your routine will be changed. Life will be different. There’s inherent uncertainty of how things will play out. This is happening to nearly everyone. 

Request a conversation with your manager. The agenda should be about expectations. Inquire about how many days in the office are required. Find out if there is an option for full remote work. The office setup is likely to have changed. Ask if the hours will remain the same as it used to be or if they will be staggered so the office doesn’t have full capacity. Establish whether masks will be needed, temperatures taken before entering the building and a need for any evidence that you are not sick, as well as other pertinent questions.

Look into methods to help cope with change-related stress. This could be deep-breathing exercises, meditation, yoga and creating mantras and affirmations to push back on the fear and any negativity. Don’t feel embarrassed to reach out to a therapist if you are feeling too overwhelmed.

Set boundaries for yourself. If you feel that your health is at risk, let your manager know that they need to make adjustments. Question health-safety issues at the office. After some time in the office setting, if it becomes too stressful, ask for a mental health day off.

Research your rights. It seems that employers have limits to forcing people back into the office, if workers have reasonable objections. This is a tricky area. If you are adamantly against returning to an office setting, it may make sense to consult with an attorney before you react hastily.

On a positive note, think of how nice it will be to see your co-workers. Replacing your sweatpants for nice work attire would be a mood-enhancing feeling. You can forge better relations with your boss and colleagues now that you're back together.