As more adults receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the possibility of returning to “business as usual” is starting to feel real. While some jobs may remain remote indefinitely, many of us face a challenging transition back to in-person work at an office or shared workspace. This brings with it the difficulty of moving from the comfort of your home or home office to a shared office space, re-entry to daily small talk and office politics and, for many, an earlier morning as we get back into commuting by car or public transportation to get to work. In preparation for your re-entry to working in person this summer or fall, consider the following advice and be sure to plan ahead.
- Remember your coping skills
What has helped you to enter new or stressful situations in the past? Can you recall when you first started your job (or any new job) and how you handled that? How do you typically cope with overwhelming stress? Some people use mindfulness and meditation, deep breathing techniques, cognitive strategies (like positive affirmations about yourself and your abilities) or will discuss their anxiety with a trusted friend. Whatever has worked for you in the past is likely to be useful to you as you face a lot of uncertainty and change.
- Keep a calendar and make lists
Keeping a calendar and a daily to-do list can ease the transition into a new routine (or back into an “old” routine). Having a written list of daily activities and expectations helps our brains to feel that there is some semblance of certainty in our day. Even if you do not adhere precisely to the agenda that you set for the day, just having the list may bring some relief.
- Acknowledge all of your feelings
The pandemic brought with it a huge amount of grief and loss that we have not had the time or space to process. As you transition back into the workplace, acknowledge the feelings that come up for you. If you feel anxious, excited, overwhelmed, or even numb – acknowledge those feelings and try to accept them in the moment rather than push them away. As we slowly exit survival mode, we have to take time to notice how we are feeling and begin to process what the past ~1.5 years have changed about our lives.
- Ease your way back in (graded exposure)
If possible, and acceptable according to your employer, try to gradually ease your way back in to your in-person work routine. Can you start out by working three days in person and two from home, for instance? Or can you find privacy in a corner of the office and work quietly to start, building your way back up to a shared and social work environment? Gradually exposing yourself to the many challenges of re-entering work may help you to feel less overwhelmed and anxious about the change.
If you find that your transition back to in-person work is too difficult to manage on your own, consider reaching out to others and rely on your social support network for help. Everyone else is grieving the loss of events, loved ones, aspirations, and even career paths due to the pandemic. If you find that calling upon previously effective coping skills and eliciting ample social support is not sufficient, consider contacting a professional to see if psychotherapy is a good option for you. All of the aspects of transitioning out of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the re-entry to work, are bound to be stressful and unpredictable. The pandemic has created a shared experience of trauma, grief, and loss, for all of us. Do not hesitate to ask for help when you need it.
By Jordan Levine, PsyD, supervised by Misti Nicholson, PsyD