Overcome back to work anxiety

As 32% of the workforce considers heading back to the office, employees are worried.

Millions of years ago, humans weren’t considering what returning to work would look like after a pandemic. Instead of worrying about the cleanliness of the workplace, how to nail that client meeting in-person, and whether they can still juggle that work-life balance, the paleolithics were focused on hunting and gathering food while surviving the occasional animal or opposing tribe attack.

Avoiding the inevitable will only make it worse. In fact, the more we avoid something that we’re anxious about, the more that anxiety builds, and the less confidence we have in our ability to overcome it. Contact Manifest to learn more about techniques you can use to get back to work without worrying about it.

Thrive as you return to work

Long since then, most of us have organized our lives in some way around a job or career, where the largest interruption to how we work was the introduction of new technologies. But then the COVID pandemic hit. Millions lost their jobs and businesses entirely, some went on hiatus, some had to work the frontlines, and many had to figure out a way to do it all over Zoom. For those of us Zoomers, COVID forced us to examine our “physical proximity,” or where work occurs, and more interestingly, what we get out of it beyond a paycheque.

What work gives us

There’s a lot of talk about the Great Resignation as millions of people quit their jobs in lieu of a better work-life balance. But what people aren’t talking about is the mental health issues that have arisen since people started working remotely. 62% of people working from home report feelings of social isolation, which has, in turn, led to more mental health issues:

  • COVID isolation has been linked to one in five Canadians experiencing anxiety, depression and PTSD;
  • one in three employees admitted to drinking while working from home during the pandemic; and
  • Nearly 30% of people are experiencing burnout from working at home.

Work gives us more than a wage or a title. It’s a shared experience that provides us with connection, engagement, and stability. But despite those of us who are ready to get back to the feelings of camaraderie with co-workers (and escape the monotony of doing everything from home), there’s a lot of worry, stress and anxiety around what going back to work looks like.

How to head back to the office

Most of us haven’t been to the office in nearly two years. As a result, people are anxious about getting back into the swing of presentations, meetings and performance reviews. If you’re feeling the same way, here are some tips from the Manifest Team about handling anxiety while heading back into the office:

  1. Gradual exposure is key. For example, head into the office two days a week and build from there. While you’re there, avoid “flooding.” Flooding is like learning to swim by being thrown off the dock. If you’re feeling back to work anxiety, don’t drop yourself into the deep-end all on your first day.
  2. Manage discomfort:
    • Breathe. Do slow, deep belly breaths leading up to the anxiety-inducing event, during, and after (learn more about diaphragmatic breathing).
    • Try out a relaxation technique. There are tons of free ones on Youtube.
    • Be easy on yourself…it’s been a hell of a past couple of years.
  3. Avoid avoidance, especially leading up to the event. Anxiety magnifies things that have not happened yet, with a peak in anxiety immediately before. Often when looking back, our perception of the event is worse than the event itself. The only way is through; that’s the best way to build your confidence again.
  4. “If you want momentum, you’ll have to create it yourself, right now, by getting up and getting started.”

    – Ryan Holiday

  5. Don’t make an impulsive or fear-based decision. Return to work, get back into your routine, and then from a calm frame of mind, decide what your future will look like. Anxiety-based thinking will typically lead you to the path of least resistance. Keep your longer-term goals in mind.
  6. “True happiness is to enjoy the present without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied.”


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