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How to Overcome Back-to-the-Workplace Anxiety

workplace anxiety

Texas workers are leading the country in returning to the office. More than 4 in 10 office workers (41.2%) in the Dallas area are now logging at least some time back in their offices, with Houston (39.3%) and Austin (38.8%) ranking second and third. Each of the three Texas cities comes in well ahead of the combined average of the ten leading cities (26.1%), reports NBCDFW.

If those stats fill you with anxiety, you’re not alone. Half of all Americans are feeling concerned about returning to in-person interactions now that the pandemic is winding down.

“I have heard a lot of anxiety from people about the return to normal,” admits Art Markman, Ph.D., author and professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. “That reflects several factors. Some of it is uncertainty about what that future looks like. The second is that the next few months will involve a lot of change in your routines, and that is also stressful.”

Markman offers several tips to reduce the anxiety you may be feeling:

  1. Find out the policies your workplace is adopting around your return to work (and if you’re in charge of putting those policies in place, be sure to have a clear and well-communicated plan).
  2. Seek out ways to start being around others safely. The more time you spend around others, the easier it will be to envision what work life will be like, and your anxiety should lessen.
  3. Get vaccinated if you can. “The only way that we will be able to return to pre-pandemic activities soon is if we can get a substantial number of people vaccinated,” he points out.
  4. Give yourself time and grace. Your brain is wired to be anxious about and resistant to change. Back in March 2020, the shutdown likely gave you similar anxiety, while now, these routines around masks and social distance may provide you with comfort. “Bear in mind that six months after you transition to a new mode of work in the new normal, you will have built habits around that, and it will feel normal and comfortable,” he says.

If your employer is offering a gradual return to work, take advantage of it. The HT Group, for instance, has a hybrid work schedule (three days in the office) through the summer. Not only does it help with social distancing within the workspace, but the transition can help ease workers back into the routine psychologically. Also in Austin, Moonshots Capital has had success with back-patio gatherings to get team members used to face-to-face interactions. “Those moments fueled us for weeks at a time,” General Partner Craig Cummings told Insider.

Jordan Levine, PsyD, of Austin Anxiety and OCD Specialists, offers additional tips to help control anxiety when re-entering the workforce. They include:

  1. Remembering your coping skills. “Can you recall when you first started your job (or any new job) and how you handled that? Whatever has worked for you in the past is likely to be useful to you as you face a lot of uncertainty and change,” he says.
  2. Embrace your listicle side. If you’re a scheduler or a list maker, use those skills to map out your days and ease your transition with set expectations and tasks.
  3. Don’t ignore your feelings. The trauma you suffered—however it transpired for you—during the pandemic is real, and you may not have had the time or space to process it yet. It may still pop up from time to time. Honor that.

And if your anxiety reaches a level beyond what you can manage, seek help. Most employers (an overwhelming 93%) say behavioral health will be a priority for their organization over the next three years. For more on seeking support from your employer, check out our recent post on Mental Health at Work.