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Q&A: Anxious about returning to work

Mental Health | August 19, 2021
Black professional woman bumps elbows with man in suit
I’m nervous about going back to the office. How do I prepare for this change?

Working near others in a common workspace was no big deal until the pandemic. With all the changes since 2020, it’s normal to feel a bit anxious about returning to the workplace.

Here are a few things you can do to ease your mind and get back-to-work ready:

  • Get your annual physical and screenings. Keeping up with your yearly checkups is an important way to identify, monitor and treat any new or ongoing conditions. Getting a clean bill of health—or knowing upfront what you should be careful about—sets a solid foundation for the rest of your planning.
  • Make sure you’re up to date on all your vaccinations, not just for COVID-19. Immunizations, including the annual flu shot and boosters, are more critical than ever for keeping you healthy and preventing serious diseases—not only for you—but for your co-workers and community.
  • Envision your transition. What do you expect to experience at the office? What worries you, specifically? Imagine scenarios and practice ahead of time how you want to handle them. You might even role-play a few with someone to practice what you will say or do to prepare.
  • Gear up for your new routine. What will your new schedule look like? What will help you feel more confident? Perhaps it’s new clothes, comfortable shoes, hygiene products, masks, boxes of tissue, a water bottle, a desktop fan, or a large tote bag (if you don’t have a dedicated workspace of your own). Having essential supplies on hand can lessen your worry, though you might wait to purchase pricier items until you know for sure what to anticipate and what will make your new situation easier.
  • Plan for your commute. If you take public transportation, stock up on extra masks, hand sanitizer, etc. If you drive or carpool, scope out a gas station for low fuel prices and note the best times for your weekly fill-up. If you’re dreading your commute, try audiobooks, music, or other activities to make this travel time something to look forward to. Your commute length may also be different now depending on how many other people are back in the office. Be prepared to adjust as you need to.
  • Set work/life boundaries. Once you’re back in the office, will you be tempted to work late? Be sure your calendar includes time for yourself and your loved ones. If you’ve been taking care of the house and yard during your remote routine, consider different approaches to getting this work done with less stress (e.g., hire a service, use a family chore chart, split tasks across the week). Regular family meetings may also be helpful for sharing the load and fostering connectedness.
  • Make mental health a priority. Maintaining your mental health is crucial. Schedule key support activities, such as counseling, journaling, Bible study or spiritual renewal, prayer and meditation, and other stress-management measures. Be diligent to keep these appointments; they are important and will help you. Read tips on managing job-related stress.
  • Keep your immune system strong.  Continue your commitment to making beneficial lifestyle decisions. Get enough sleep, eat healthy and move daily.  Avoid tobacco and be mindful about your alcohol intake. Your day-to-day choices can make a significant difference in your health and well-being. Read more about building your immunity.
  • Use checklists to soothe anxiety.  Use a templated checklist from day to day or keep a running list of notes (on paper or on screen) to gain a better sense of control over your tasks or concerns. A Wellness Action Plan or Healthy Habit Tracking Log can help you keep your health a priority.

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