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Stressed about returning to the office? Heather Taylor is here to help. (Credit: Engin Akyurt from Pixabay)

If you have been working remotely amid Covid-19, there’s a fair chance you may feel anxiety, or even dread, thinking about returning to an onsite office again. You are not alone, not even a little bit.

In a new study “Employee Care: Defining the New Normal” from the Limeade Institute, 100 percent of formerly onsite employees are anxious about returning to the workplace. Individuals polled in this study revealed they are anxious about returning to the traditional worksite, with concerns ranging from possible exposure to Covid-19 to less flexibility regarding when, where, and how they can work. (And maybe some stress over what to wear, after a year of sweatpants.)

What can be done to relieve stress and worry if we are collectively anxious about returning to the office? There are certain techniques and activities we might try to ease our concerns and increase self-confidence.

[Related: How to Keep That Vulnerability We’ve Seen on Zoom as Offices Re-Open]

1. Use Mental Imagery

Dr. Elizabeth Gilbert is the head of research at PsychologyCompass, where she develops science-backed lessons and interventions to help people improve their cognition and well-being. She recommends using mental imagery, broken down into two simple parts: 

  • Imagine the worst-case scenario, and how you will get through it. Maybe it’s struggling with a long commute or awkward interactions with colleagues. Ask yourself how you would handle this situation. Carefully think about the resources you could use, such as skill sets or personal strengths. Consider similar situations you overcame in the past. Walk yourself through your worst fears, what you would do, and how you would survive.
  • Now, imagine the best-case scenario. Allow yourself to daydream about it, actually! The best-case scenario is the one where you are able to enjoy your ideal workday. Think about fun activities that can fill that time, like a lunch with a great colleague or a podcast you can listen to on the way to work. Recall the upsides you enjoyed prior to the pandemic, like chatting with a member of your department or engaging in onsite team activities.

Gilbert notes that part of the reason why returning to the workplace can produce anxiety is because people often focus on the negative aspects surrounding this return. We think about the good things that we have to give up and start to fixate on bad things that could happen to us. However, once we start to return to work most of these negatives will not be as bad as we imagined. 

“Imagining both negative and positive possibilities allows you to regain a sense of control over the situation,” Gilbert says. “You can remind yourself of the good things that are likely to happen and come from this change.”

[Related: How to Stay Inspired When You Really Need a Boost]

2. Recite a Mantra

Meagan Turner, a counselor at Emerge Counseling, knows that the back-to-work transition differs for every employee and it’s important to prepare in advance. 

One helpful approach is to treat remaining WFH days as though they are in-person office days. This means setting an alarm in the morning for your ideal morning routine. Wear real pants and get your coffee and exercise routine in before you start working from home. 

“If you prep as though you are going to the office, you will even have some free time in the morning to relax during what will soon be a commute again,” Turner says.

Once your brain and body are familiar with your routine again, Turner advises using the commute time before you go back to work to recite a mantra to yourself. 

For example, Turner suggests “I have done this before, and I know I can do it again.” You may recite this or a similar mantra to yourself that makes you feel safe and secure as you head back to work.

3. Commit to Personal Changes as You Return to Work

It’s normal for formerly onsite employees to be anxious about returning to work, says executive and leadership development coach Jennifer Hogan

Hogan suggests reframing the return to the office as an opportunity to kickstart making some personal changes. Some people might have started pursuing some of these changes, such as exercising, eating healthier, or starting a new hobby, during lockdown. Others might not have had the momentum to make these changes in a year spent working from home — and that’s okay. 

[Related: What to Wear? A Small, But Significant, Pandemic Question]

“We’ve all been through a year of profound change, and frankly, weird circumstances,” Hogan says. “People often find it’s easier to make new starts in waves. Look at the return to work as the start of something new and get started with the changes in your life you have been meaning to make.” 

As reluctance fades and we start to embrace the new normal, we will likely discover we enjoy the good things that come with this change. Dare I say there’s a chance that 100 percent of us will benefit from it? 

Heather Taylor is the head writer for PopIcon, Advertising Week’s blog dedicated to brand mascots.  She been published on HelloGiggles, Brit + Co, Joy, Business Insider, and more online outlets. Find her on Twitter @howveryheather.