Feeling anxious about the return to the office? Here’s how to feel more confident about it

Are you dreading going back into the office?

You’re not alone. With the economy starting to re-open, many companies are starting to think about how to encourage their staff to swap trackie-bottoms for trousers and make their way back into the office for some actual real life, 3 dimensional, face-to-face business time. And while for many employees, this new freedom from children, cramped, shared living spaces, and an endless succession of Zoom meetings, will be greeted with unbridled glee, for many others it comes with a large side order of anxiety. As many as one in four of us wants to stay fully remote, with many saying they’d take a pay cut in order to be allowed to stay away from the office.

With Covid rates rising again, new variants to think about, plus a comfortable new routine of home-based working which might have suited those on the introvert side of things, it’s not surprising that going out into the big bad world leaves some of us feeling a little unsure. But is all this newfound worry really just about going back to the office, or could it be a signal that you want to make changes in your work life? Maybe it’s time to explore a little and learn some more about yourself and what you’re feeling inside.

How to explore your feelings of anxiety

1) Don’t try and squash, avoid, deny or otherwise mask the feelings

You are reading this so there’s a good chance you’ve already acknowledged your nerves exist.  Great work!  Like Dr.Marsha always says, “You have to feel it to heal it”, so noticing you feelings and allowing them space is the first step.

Anxiety about any change is totally normal – allow yourself to have the feelings. We’re not saying it’s ok to let your feelings take over, and control you, but make some space for them to be a part of you, and validate their existence. If you try and squash them down, they’ll pop back up when you least expect them. 

To allow yourself to experience all the worries you have…try making some time to write them down.  Sit down with your journal, or just some bots of scrap paper, and write down how these emotions make you feel in your body. Where are they? Get granular. Are they warm, or cold, do they have a border? Where does it ache when you think of going back to the office.  Also, write down all the thoughts that come along with the feelings on your body – where does your mind go? Write those thoughts down.

We’re using this process to simply observe our feelings. It’s entirely normal to have these difficult thoughts, and also totally fine and expected that our bodies feel tense and strange. What are these thoughts doing? Are they making you more uncomfortable, or tense or worried?  Thoughts come and go and we have the power to focus on what we want.

Pulling up these feelings and sitting with them isn’t necessarily going to feel comfortable…its ok, Do some deep conscious breathing to help your body regulate. In for four, hold for four, out for four. Once you’ve regulated, and started to feel calmer,  we’ll move on to making some lists.

2) Make some lists

The Shit List

First up, make a list of all the things you’re not looking forward to about going back to the office. What are you worried about? What are you scared to lose? What is frustrating you? What makes you angry? Your commute? Exposure to illness? The expense? Social anxieties? Organising more childcare? Getting this all out into the light of day is a cathartic process, and helps you see the situation more clearly.

The Hit List

Now write down all the positives about going back to the office. What are you looking forward to? Seeing your favourite colleagues? Listening to podcasts on the way in? The little pastries from that place across the road? If you think about it, there are a whole lot of good things about going in to work. Write them down.

Your Great List

If you’re feeling nervous about your performance, we have a Mindshine exercise which is perfect for instilling a sense of confidence. It’s called the Great List. When we’re nervous about something, we often tend to fixate on the potential negative outcomes. What if x,y, or z happens.  What we forget at times like these is how capable we are. How versions of X,Y, and Z have happened to us loads of times before, and we dealt with them just fine. So with the great list, we make a list of all the times we’ve come up against challenges and come through them. A sort of greatest hits from our lives of all the things that show we can do it. Maybe even keep one in your phone’s notes section, and add to it throughout the year. Then when you’re feeling a little nervous, just have a quick read through to remind yourself how capable you are.

3) Affirmations

These really work! It might seem a little bit like magic or wishful thinking, but affirmations have been shown to work in numerous experiments to change how you see yourself. Think of a phrase that talks to you in your situation. Formulate it in the first person, and in the present tense. And keep it positive (no don’ts or can’ts). Something like “I am a valuable member of the team and my presence at work is a huge positive for the company” or “My opinion matters, my work is important” or “I have the skills and experience to do my job well” I deserve to be here” whatever you need to hear. And then repeat it over and over to yourself for at least a minute. In your head is fine, but out loud is even better (just make sure nobody can hear you!)  It might feel strange, but your brain will start to believe it. 

4) Can you find a happy medium? 

If you’re still dreading going back in, or you’ve set your mind on keeping some of the benefits of working from home, can you make moves in that direction? Are you able to have conversations with your teammates or leaders about what worked better being at home and what is better at the office? Your work should at the very least allow you to have this conversation, so prepare for it by visualising what having your needs met in the workplace would look like.  Ask yourself why is that important to you, and then get in there and bring it up. If you don’t ask, you won’t get.

Wellness in the workplace

Over the last few years there has been a great welling up of feeling in society around many areas of unfairness. The world has been forced to stop and listen to the voices of many previously ignored parts of society, and hopeful sproutings of change are starting to show, spurred on by the Black Lives Matter movement, rights for Trans people, and a growing de-stigmatisation around mental health. We don’t live in a utopia, far from it, but there’s a breeze blowing which seems to be offering the hope of change, and employers around the world ignore it at their peril. Most millennials and gen Z employees now expect their workplace to care about their wellbeing. We all can’t just jump back to work without the discussions or efforts to support each other. There’s no “back to normal”. Post pandemic, workplaces need to create a space for wellbeing and  mental health, they simply can’t afford not to, and we all need to be a part of that process.

You can find more articles about how to recognize burnout, how to avoid burnout, or how to transform your negative beliefs for more happiness in our Magazine.

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Download the Mindshine app (iOS or Android) for more mindfulness and happiness exercises that help you find out what you believe and who you are.