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How to deal with back-to-office anxiety


Photo: Arlington Research/Unsplash
The pandemic may be over but Covid-19 has changed the way we live, work, do business, communicate, travel, socialise and entertain. Most companies have reopened their offices and recalled employees for in-person work either back to a five-day week as before or a four-day working week or even less. Some companies have been more flexible: they have left it to the employees to decide how many days of the week they’d like to work from office. But those employers are far and few between.

Whatever the shape of the new WorkLife 2.0, not everyone is happy to go back to office after months of work from home. Many salaried workers have been apprehensive and even nervous about returning to the workplace. According to a McKinsey survey, one-third employees said their return to work has had a negative impact on their mental health, while those who'd not yet returned anticipated stress and anxiety when they went back.

The mental distress is understandable. Remote working, in many ways, improved the quality of life for a lot of people. It was a rare moment in time when an unprecedented health crisis, ironically, helped restore work-life balance — inducing people to focus on their well-being and value their lives more than their erratic work routines and gadgets. The absence of daily commute through rush hours and the disquiet often associated with office and client meetings; the flexible work schedules; better sleep time and higher energy levels; more savings in the bank; and above all, time spent with the family reduced stress greatly and gave rise to a happy disposition.

While return to office in whatever form has been mentally and emotionally challenging for many, it need not be the elephant in the room. Here are three simple steps that you can take to make work from office less stressful and more engaging.

‘Breathe’ when you’re feeling good

And not when you’re feeling anxious and stressed, and probably, already hyperventilating or breathing too quickly. Instead, pay attention to your breathing when you’re calm and relaxed. Take normal or deep breaths for a minute or two, slow-counting up to five for each inhale, hold and exhale. You can do this exercise more than once sitting at your desk or in a quiet place in the office. Focused breathing is known to soothe the nerves and keep anxiety episodes at bay. However, a word of caution: If you’ve never tried breathing techniques before, then consult your doctor or a yoga teacher before you start.

Work on your feet

For some reason, working on your laptop in a standing position can be oddly calming. My guess is that the change of scene breaks the monotony of sitting in one place and takes away the restless feeling, especially in one prone to anxious thoughts. So the next time you’re agitated, find a suitable place in your office from where you can stand and work, preferably with a steaming mug of tea or coffee. You’ll not only work better, but you’ll feel good too.

Tell your superior how you feel

Talking to your reporting manager about your “re-entry anxiety” can help relieve your fears and give you the mental strength to do your job without worry. Assuming the person you report to is supportive and empathetic, you can, till such time you regain your confidence, seek flexible working hours and the option to work from home whenever you feel out of sorts. Fortunately, in the post-Covid-19 era, an increasing number of companies are giving priority to the mental well-being of their employees.

While these three practical tips will alleviate your discomfort, you can add more — such as taking a colleague into confidence, stepping out of the office for a walk, using positive mantras and affirmations or planning your evenings so you’ve something to look forward to — and eventually change the way you feel about working from office.

© Prashant C. Trikannad

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