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Coping with return-to-work anxiety

After more than a year of working remotely, work changes, and continued Covid cases, it is natural to have concerns about returning to the office. Although COVID vaccines are available, returning to work after COVID can still cause some stress. How might someone cope and manage their anxiety? If you are worried about returning to work after the coronavirus lockdown, we have outlined some ways to help you cope.

Anxiety is not only normal but totally expected!

Although returning to work in the office can provide a sense of normalcy,, it may still feel nerve-wracking for some. While this may be perplexing, it is normal. “Re-entry” anxiety is real!

Many of us spent over a year adapting to a new way of working. Even though life returning to ‘normal’ may seem like a good thing, it is still change! Any kind of change can be stressful. We are again being asked to adapt and shift the way we work, relate, and connect. While many individuals may have struggled with social anxiety prior to shutdown, the lack of interactions only exacerbated these symptoms. As a result, you may feel uncomfortable with the idea of interacting with people on a daily basis again.

Another common concern is transmitting COVID-19 from the office. It can be especially daunting if you have been able to work remotely during the pandemic.

Show compassion and empathy towards yourself and others

It is important to remember that it is normal to feel unease. Showing compassion and empathy towards yourself will help alleviate stress in the process. A common response to anxiety is to ruminate on how to fix the ‘problem’ or to judge ourselves for how we are reacting. . If you feel anxiety setting in, try this 2-minute self-compassion check-in.

  1. I am feeling…….. (Describe your feelings and sensations in your body. Notice what your mind is saying.)

  2. I am not alone in my experience.

  3. How can I practice kindness towards myself right now? (What might I say or do for someone I love if they were in my position?)

Here are also some helpful positive affirmations to combat anxious thoughts:

  • I can do this

  • I am prepared and ready

  • It is normal to feel this way

  • This feeling will pass

  • I am in control of….

  • Things will work out

  • Returning to work means going forward

As we acclimate to the new normal, remember that mistakes are bound to happen. Practice patience and understanding with yourself and with others.

Prepare coping tools

Listening to your body will help you prepare for stress when it comes. If you react physically by clenching your fists or breathing heavily, you may benefit from stretching and practicing deep breathing exercises. You may also find mindfulness or meditation practices work in grounding yourself through anxious thoughts. Additionally, getting enough sleep, exercise, and eating a balanced diet can do wonders and decrease stress and anxiety.

Communication with employer

Be proactive about mental health and communicate clearly with your employer on how you can ‘finish your work while also keeping your well-being in mind.

  • Have a check-in scheduled to avoid personal difficulties at work.

  • Ask about having occasional work-from-home days.

  • Ask about any resources that your employer can provide for your mental wellbeing.

Develop routine

Creating a routine that works for you is important as it keeps you focused and on task. Having things scheduled out also removes anxiety and gives you a clear picture of how you will be spending your time.

  • Wake up at a time that allows you to get enough sleep and get important things done

  • Schedule more difficult tasks for when you are at your peak time for the day.

  • Have “me time” scheduled so that you don’t get overwhelmed by everything else.

  • Make time for loved ones.


If you notice frequent changes to your body, mood, or feel you are struggling, seek mental health support now through teletherapy, an employee assistance program, or another provider to help you work through difficult feelings now. The Americans With Disabilities Act offers protections for workers with physical and mental impairments, and grants you the right to ask for a reasonable accommodation if you have a mental health condition. The pandemic has been challenging and returning to the workplace may trigger preexisting conditions such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. In these cases, it is completely acceptable to need a little bit more support to manage your symptoms.

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