group of young people working together supporting each other in the post-pandemic workplaceWhile an estimated 70% of the American workforce spent the better half of 2021 (and most of 2020) working from home – that’s quickly changing. Workplaces are trying to “get back to normal” after the COVID-19 pandemic, and that involves moving people into work. That’s obviously stressful, especially for the millions of people who are immunocompromised or who have family members who are.

The good news is that you can continue to stay safe by maintaining distance at work, by asking approval to work from home if you are immunocompromised, and by following work safety protocols. At the same time, working in an office adds extra stress, even without a pandemic. Working from home offers flexibility, reduced commute, and more ability to spend time with family. Losing that can be difficult. Managing your mental health as you move into this potentially high-stress environment is crucial, especially if you’ve spent the better part of the last year relatively isolated, have had previous mental health problems related to work, or have a mental health disorder.

Limit Circles at Work

It’s natural and important that you be able to talk to people at work. After all, that’s how work gets done. Simply being able to interact with others as you work helps you to get the information and support you need to complete work. But, taking time to limit your circles will help you to limit stress. For example:

  • Work out with your team who needs to be in-office and when. Smaller groups normally mean fewer risks
  • Establish distance guidelines with your team(s) for the office and for lunch and outdoors
  • Discuss safety standards and get buy-in for them

Taking steps to reduce a source of stress is important. And, you can take a similar approach to other items of stress, like commute, childcare, etc.

Acknowledge and Minimize Stress Points

Going back to work after being at home for some time is stressful. Most humans see change as stressful. Your primary points of concern are likely commute, spending a day in an office, and spending time preparing to be in an office.

Commute – Commute is recognized as a significant contributor to workplace stress. The closer you live to your work, the less stressed you will be. Going back into commuting after not having to can be difficult. Take time to manage it. Here, you might consider arranging to carpool with a colleague or a friend who works nearby. You might organize downtime when you get home, so you can relax. And, you might start looking into working closer to home. Many workplaces are also increasingly open to the idea of flex work, where you go into office on some days and stay home the rest. Discuss options with your manager if this is a point of concern.

Losing Time – If you work from home, you’re not accustomed to taking time out of your day to prepare for lunch the next day. You’re not accustomed to having to be ready to leave on time. All of this can be stressful. Most people benefit from building routines, like preparing lunch or freezer meals during the weekend, so you can just grab items and go. That will save you a lot of time during your workday. You can also account for lost time by making up for it in other ways. For example, your colleagues might be able to rotate out daycare based on who’s staying home that day. Meal prep can save considerable time. Planning to bike to work can save you considerable time if you also plan to go to the gym, etc.

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Prioritize Your Mental Health

Two friends talking sitting in a couch inside the workplaceStress, high workloads, and being in an office where you have to be productive –with very few breaks – is bad for your mental health. It’s important to go back to the workplace with the understanding that you and the people around you are likely going to be struggling. That means:

  • Setting reasonable goals and expectations for yourself. Don’t expect to be able to work right away without distractions. Bring noise cancelling headphones. Break work up into Pomodoro blocks to improve focus. And, decide how and when interacting with coworkers while you work is good.
  • Join workplace stress management initiatives. Many large organizations offer stress management. This can be everything from Mindfulness and meditation classes to counseling and therapy – or a mix of the two with treatments like Mindfulness-based Stress reduction Therapy. These types of classes can help you to find balance, to reduce how you react to stress, and to reduce how much you pay attention to stress – which overall benefits your mental health.
  • Speak up if you’re not feeling well. If you’re feeling stressed, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or otherwise aren’t up to going in to work, talk about it. The pandemic has been bad for everyone’s mental health.

If you’re really struggling, asking for help, seeking out mental health treatment, or going to a therapist is always a good call. You don’t have to be at the point of falling apart to get help.

Take Care of Yourself

Maintaining or improving your physical health will help you to balance and improve your mental health. That holds true no matter how fit or healthy you are now.

Nutrition Nutrition is an important component of mental health. Proper nutrition contributes to your mood, your energy levels, your concentration, and even your ability to be happy. While “good” nutrition varies per person, you can normally try eating balanced meals, with an 80/20 ratio of “this is healthy”. Healthy foods are normally balanced meals, following guidelines like those offered by, which offers simple guidelines on diversifying fruit and vegetables to ensure you get enough nutrition.

Don’t Overdo Caffeine and Sugar – As you go back to work, high amounts of caffeine and sugar can make your workday easier. At the same time, they cut into your ability to focus, cause energy crashes, and often do more harm than good, providing you’re taking them in large quantities. A cup or two of coffee and sugar within your daily guideline’s values won’t hurt. But, make sure you’re not stretching yourself between cups of coffee or sugar to keep going.

Exercise – Many of us go to work and stop exercising. That’s understandable if a lot of your day is taken up with commute. But, it’s the worst thing you can do for your mental health. Exercise boosts energy levels, improves oxygen levels, and boosts your mood. If you can bike to work, it’s the best thing you can do. But, even walking for 30 minutes a day during your lunch break will make the second half of your day easier. Spending time in nature also benefits your mental health.

It goes without saying that you should avoid drugs and alcohol as you move back to work. That’s important, even if the alcohol in question is a beer to help you unwind when you get home. If you can’t find a healthy way to destress when you get home, you probably want to talk to a therapist or get other help.

No matter how or where you work, it’s important to prioritize yourself and your happiness. Work should fit into your life, you shouldn’t have to fit your life around work. That becomes especially obvious to many of us as we move back into the workplace. Unfortunately, many workplaces are stressful. Commute is stressful. Coworkers are stressful. Learning how to cope with that stress and to improve your overall work experience is an important part of moving forward. Sometimes that means asking for help, getting treatment, and learning new skills to help you manage your work life balance, to manage your emotions, and to manage stress.

If you want to more information about mental health treatment and the therapies offered at the Gooden Center, contact us today for a free consultation.

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