Are you really ready to head back to the office?
If you’re like most people, you’ve adapted to working from home — learning a new routine, finding new patterns, and living a smaller, more sheltered life. While these adaptations were necessary for a while, are they really good for us long-term?
Probably not, in most cases.
We know that too much isolation isn’t healthy. But as we return to life around people, it can feel uncomfortable — even anxiety-provoking. In fact, over the past few months, people have struggled with mental health more than they might have expected. It seems like life should be getting easier, but transitioning back into a new normal is proving difficult.
Many of our clients are returning to the office — or they will be soon. This change brings up a lot of unknowns… again. Even though we used to go to the office five days a week, now our office-time is up for discussion. Are you going to be hybrid? Will there be a set schedule? Will everyone come in on the same days? Will your building be at full capacity? What kinds of protocols will we have to follow? If you’re not sure of the plan, it can feel unsettling.
It’s also tough to return to places you haven’t visited since the pandemic began. As I went back to the office the first few times, I was surprised by the anxiety I felt. It was unsettling to battle traffic (since no one’s taking public transportation), and see San Francisco as a ghost town. Some of the best lunch spots were boarded up and gone forever. Another popular restaurant was open but only had three people inside at lunch — it used to have a line out the door.
Even places that feel “normal” are uncomfortable. A bustling coffee shop isn’t the relaxing experience it used to be. We are always on alert at some level.
After staying in my little cocoon at home with my own rituals and routine for so long, going back to the office felt like starting a new job all over again. Combine that feeling with the unknowns we’re still navigating, and it’s a recipe for a mental struggle.
So what do you do? Here are a few things that are helping me that may help you as well.
“Over the past few months, people have struggled with mental health more than they might have expected. It seems like life should be getting easier, but transitioning back into a new normal is proving difficult.”
If you are like most of us, your sleep schedule may have shifted or grown inconsistent during the pandemic. There is almost nothing that undermines our mental well-being as much as poor sleep habits. Now is the time for those healthy bedtime rituals and regular hours.
2. Get Sunlight
Sunlight may not feel like a big deal, but research increasingly shows it’s important. If you’re sitting in your house working all day, take a few breaks and go outdoors. (Looking out the window doesn’t count!)
Get outside for at least a few minutes every day — maybe eat your lunch outside or take a short walk. You’ll just feel better.
3. Exercise Intentionally
As schedules pick up and you factor in commute time again, it might be tempting to cut exercise from the priority list. Keep (or start) moving daily — even if it’s for short intervals. Also integrate resistance training for an extra mental boost.
Exercise lowers your stress, boosts your mood, and even strengthens your mental resilience — in addition to all the physical benefits.
4. Interact with others
It’s time to connect socially again. Push your boundaries, not with your health, but with your social comfort.
You became used to being alone — or having a very small social circle. But if you’re like most humans, the bigger your life is, the better you feel. As your health permits, re-engage in social connections, hobbies, and communal spiritual practices. Life has shrunk down a bit — it’s time for it to expand again.
5. Be kind to yourself
Heading back to work in person and figuring out your new normal will be a transition. It won’t feel the same as it did pre-pandemic. Be ready for any and all feelings that may arise and greet them with self-compassion. Self-judgment and comparisons around your feelings will only create a downward emotional spiral.
“When people don’t have guidelines on time tables or days they should plan to come to the office, it makes the situation even more stressful. Your team needs certainty in an uncertain world.”
Leaders, Make a Plan.
If you’re the decision maker at your work, it’s time to get it together. Giving your team a concrete plan is the best way you can reduce anxiety and help them transition to the new normal.
Many business leaders are waiting for a cue before they make a decision — they want to see what other companies do first.
But it’s time to decide and move forward.
Delaying the decision around in-office work schedules creates even more anxiety within the workforce. You can only use the phrase, “Not sure, everyone’s still trying to figure it out” so often before it turns into a haphazard excuse. When people don’t have guidelines on time tables or days they should plan to come to the office, it makes the situation even more stressful.
Your team needs certainty in an uncertain world.
Yes, it’s time to get back out in the world, but it’s not as easy to jump back into life as it used to be. As you navigate a new work schedule and a return to your social life, double down on self-care and be kind to yourself — whatever it is you’re feeling.
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