Home Mental Health Returning to work after the pandemic? 5 Tips to protect your mental health

Returning to work after the pandemic? 5 Tips to protect your mental health

written by Vidya Sury June 11, 2021
How to protect your mental health when returning to work

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Now that COVID19 is finally being beaten into retreat, increasing numbers of people are returning to work. Even if the change is welcome, it is still a change.

You may be worried about potential exposure to the virus. After all, staying safe meant staying home. Or you may be anxious about being in close contact with others in a shared workspace and having to interact with customers and colleagues. While social interaction is definitely a plus for mental wellbeing and is also an important aspect of businesses and the economy getting back on track, it can still be intimidating to think of.

And while office life has its own advantages and shortcomings, nobody expected it to be taken away last year. Some people were okay with it while others struggled with the change. One thing was certain, we did feel safe in our homes, which is why returning to work can seem scary and filled with uncertainties.

How to transition back to work safely and make it less stressful?

First, identify where your stress is coming from 

It is normal to feel nervous about returning to work, considering that we’ve felt safe at home for much longer than we expected. This anxiety may have two causes:

  • The first one is about safety. Maybe you are anxious that when you leave your house, you may unknowingly contract COVID19 or be responsible for spreading it.
  • The second is about social interaction. After the pandemic began, we have been practicing social distancing. Getting back to meeting people and being normal can be stressful.

Anxiety is okay in some situations but when it is overwhelming, it can be harmful for your mental health.

If you are planning on returning to work soon, here are some tips to make the process easier and protect your mental health.

Returning to work after the pandemic 5 tips

Five tips to protect your mental health if you are returning to work

1.   Try to transition gradually

Your employer may offer some level of flexible working, at least in the early stages of the return. If they don’t offer it, try asking. If flexible working really isn’t an option, then do what you can to prepare yourself.

Walk through possible scenarios at work to help you feel more at ease. Imagery is powerful in helping to cope with anxiety-filled situations. Doing this will strengthen you emotionally.

Make a dry run to your office before your official start date. Look around. Sit in your chair. Remember that things may not look or feel like they did before. that a lot has changed in a year, so expect that things are not going to look or feel like they did a year ago.

Mentally, this could make it less of a shock when you have to do it “for real”. Practically, it will show you anything you’d forgotten and any changes you might not have known about. Then you can figure out ways to deal with them when you’re not rushed for time.

2.   Make your work space ready

And while you’re at your workplace, why not tidy up? Since your office has likely been shut for several months, it may need to be cleaned. So when you’re doing that dry run to work, carry some cleaning material and spend some time getting your space ready. Perhaps add some photos, some plants. An uncluttered clean space is good for your mental health and reduces your stress levels, especially your stress hormone—cortisol levels. According to research, plants help reduce stress levels at the office and raise productivity by 15%.

3.   Take a look at your wardrobe

There are studies that show that work attire makes us feel more confident and professional. You feel good when you know you look good. Maybe you were comfortable at home when you wore that old t-shirt and track pants, but when you head out to the office, you definitely want to look sharp. The right wardrobe can make the process of returning to work easier. You may want to refresh your wardrobe with that in mind.

4.   Consider keeping a wellness journal

All you need is a basic notebook where you record key facts about your day. What you record is up to you. Some ideas to consider are mood, water intake, caffeine intake, food intake, and exercise.

If possible, you should also record any discomfort or pain you feel, for example, headaches. Try to keep an accurate note of the onset of symptoms, how long they last and what exactly they are. Also, try to keep notes of where you were at the time and what was happening.

Think of it as the equivalent of making an accident report as you do for physical injuries. The comparison is very real because employers have a responsibility to safeguard your mental health as well as your physical health. In the real world, employers tend to vary widely in how seriously they take this responsibility.

In some cases, reporting concerns to your line manager or HR will be enough to get you all the help you need. In others, sadly, you may end up needing to resort to the law. If you do, make sure you get proper support from relentless personal injury attorneys.

5.   Keep an effective night-time routine

It’s a cliché but like many clichés, it’s grounded in truth. You really do need a proper night’s sleep to be at your best in the daytime. When working from home, you didn’t have to commute, making it easy to enjoy that snooze-fest on your alarm.

Maybe you even made for your desk straight out of bed! Or maybe being at home and managing your family forced you to stay up late, working into the night. Maybe you have slipped into unhealthy habits.

Even if you haven’t, your current routine may not be sustainable when you go back to on-site working. For example, you may have developed the habit of sleeping late because you don’t have to travel. If that’s the case, you’ll have to decide if you want to try to push your body back onto the right schedule or adjust gradually. Either way, it will be best to start the process soon.

Fortunately, returning to work means a normal day again. So, ensure that you get enough rest so that you don’t feel drowsy when you are in an important meeting.

Try and establish a routine bedtime before you return to work. When you get enough sleep, it helps you avoid emotional eating.

When you do head back to work, you may find that the change makes it harder for you to unwind in the evenings. Try not to reach for that drink. Instead, opt for healthier options such as herbal teas, showers or baths, and exercises such as yoga.

Read Yoga for stress relief – a six week plan

What to do once you return to work

Even after you prepare for returning to work, it can be stressful as you will be working closely with people who have probably not been following pandemic safety protocols. You may also be worried about your workplace safety protocols.

How to tackle this? Here are some tips:

Share your concern

Don’t hesitate to voice your expectations. Ask your employer about the COVID-19 safety policy in place. Read the fine print. If these safety protocols are not being followed, question this. Make it clear that job safety is important to you. Do keep wearing your own mask and keep your hand sanitizer at your desk for your own protection.

Returning to work Sanitizer mask and gloves

Practice physical distancing

Let your colleagues know that you are still social distancing. Create physical distance by standing behind your desk or moving your chair farther away. Reorganize your space to create the distance you need.

What if you’re not allowed to return to work at this time?

Several organizations have switched to hybrid work arrangements. Some are giving their employees the option of working from home or coming in to work periodically. However, there are those that have no choice but to work on-site. If that means you, try and look at the bright side.

Think about how you feel about having to go to work. Make a note of what you are struggling with.

  • Are you worried about leaving your kids?
  • Are you wondering if you’ll be safe?
  • Does it feel uncomfortable to be on a schedule again?
  • What are you concerned about?

Now, consider what you have learned working from home. What would you like to do once you get back home from work? Maybe you would like to spend time with your family or go out often. Also, you will have your space back when you stop working from home. A cleaner dining table without your work papers all over it. Maybe your bedroom can go back to a soothing resting place without doubling up as an office.

If you are unable to cope, don’t hesitate to reach out  

It has been an unusual year for everyone. If you are already undergoing treatment for mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or PTSD, talk to your doctor so that you can work out a way to manage your routine when you return to work.

Stay healthy!

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