It has been a couple of months since the latest surge of new COVID-19 cases peaked and people began to return to their new normal. However, some of us may still feel hesitant about returning to old routines, as many people prepare to return to the office and other in-person settings.
“It can be pretty common for those returning to the office from remote work to experience an adjustment period or increased stress, especially after such a significant change to your daily routines and typical experience of interpersonal interaction,” says Emma Porterfield, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist with Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. “It can feel unfamiliar and overwhelming, causing us to experience increased anxiety.”
Though experiencing some anxiety can be a healthy response in certain situations, anxiety can also leave us feeling fearful of reengagement with the world around us. Porterfield offers these six tips to help people cope:
- Normalize what you’re feeling.
It’s OK to feel some anxiety and miss old work-from-home routines, such as having pets around as a source of comfort. One may also experience disappointment or frustration as they integrate themselves into an in-office experience that is more restricted and regulated than it was pre-COVID. Reminding yourself of this is a great step in normalizing the emotions that may come up with having less time at home or missing certain aspects of your pre-COVID office experience.
- Be kind to yourself.
“People might be surprised how challenging it can be to be gentle with ourselves when we’re already feeling anxious. Criticizing ourselves or thinking ‘I shouldn’t feel this way’ or ‘what’s my problem?’ often increases how anxious we feel,” says Porterfield.
Instead of judging yourself for your emotional experience, try to notice your thoughts and emotions and work to reframe them. You might start by allowing yourself the space to say, “I’m feeling anxious,” or thinking “I don’t feel good enough, but I’m doing the best I can given the resources I have.”
- Be present.
Anxiety can leave us feeling stressed, overwhelmed or uneasy about our future. Engaging in daily activities that anchor us to the present moment can help decrease anxiety. Anxiety often increases when we overthink future stressors or situations we anticipate. Draw your attention to what you have control over today.
- Breathe with intention.
Focusing on your breathing is something you can do anywhere and can have a positive impact on anxiety levels. Deep breathing involves taking slow, deep breaths in through the nose, letting the chest expand with air, and slowly releasing it out through the mouth. Engaging in this throughout the day can support your overall wellness, including positive benefits for your physiological, mental and emotional wellbeing.
- Continue positive routines.
Many of us established new routines to help us through the pandemic. But the thought of having to dust off our old ones as we transition back to more time spent outside of our homes can be an adjustment.
“Give yourself time to explore what new routines and habits you have created during COVID-19 that you would like to continue. Consider things that helped you feel calm, invoked positive feelings about yourself, or you just had a fun time with, and maintain them,” says Porterfield. “If maintaining these new routines is complicated by a return to in-office work, try to modify these habits in some way to see how you can continue to incorporate aspects of them into your life. Doing this not only supports our overall wellness but also makes engaging in our old routines easier.”
- If you feel like your anxiety is becoming too overwhelming, seek support.
“Reminding ourselves that it’s OK to ask for help can feel like a struggle. Having the support of friends, family and a mental health provider can help to reinforce that we don’t have to go through this experience alone,” says Porterfield.
A mental health provider can provide you with a safe space to explore your mental health and learn new coping skills.
Learn more about mental health services at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital.
Sharp joins the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in recommending all people 6 months and older become up to date on the latest COVID-19 vaccines and boosters as well as the annual flu shot to remain healthy and safe as you return to activities outside the home.