Can your mental health handle returning to the office after COVID-19?

Not too long ago the threat of COVID-19 (coronavirus) forced many of us to swap our office desks for dining room tables, sofas, and desks at home stuffed into a dark corner of the room. Instead of meeting together in conference rooms, we stared at faces on our computer screens virtually. Many of us had to accommodate for children no longer in school, or spouses working alongside us at home.

The sudden ask to change our daily routines took a toll on the mental health of Americans. Our stress and anxiety levels went up, and focus and productivity declined. But, after weeks of settling into the work from home routine, offices are now getting ready to re-open their doors to employees. Can our mental health handle the stress and anxiety of returning to the office, and the fear COVID-19 has instilled in us after all these weeks?

Our brains are wired to focus on safety first. Thoughts of whether the office environment is safe to work in, or the fear of simply bumping into someone and touching them may give us a sense of unease. Returning to the office doesn’t change the fact that COVID-19 is still a threat. Organizations must accommodate for new health and safety guidelines, and employees will be required to follow them while at work. Office layouts and schedules may also need to change. Just as the transition to working from home affected many of us, returning to a new work environment at the office will as well. Here’s how you can help shift your mindset as you prepare yourself to return to the office.

Ease Into the Transition

Just because you have the option to return, may not mean you have to. If you’re more comfortable working at home, ask your manager if you can keep that schedule until you feel you’re ready to go back. It’s likely that offices may be required to limit the number of employees in the area at any given time, so staying home will eliminate the stress of having to figure this out. When you are ready to go back, ease yourself into it. Start off with a day or two in the office, and slowly progress until you’re back to full time.

Prioritize Things That Make You Happy

Even before COVID-19 came about, many of us were already stressed and exhausted after a long day at the office. Now more than ever, it’s important to prioritize the things that make us happy and focus on the positive in our lives. Does going for a walk clear your mind? Perhaps you have another hobby, like drawing or cooking. Find something you enjoy doing, and make the time to do it. Giving yourself something to look forward to can help reduce the stress and anxiety building up throughout the day.


If you find yourself at the office struggling to stay focused, remind yourself to simply breathe. Breathing at a rate of six breaths per minute boosts heart rate variability, which in turn reduces stress and anxiety. Focus on clearing your mind and regulating your breath, not the negative thoughts swarming around your brain. This exercise can be done right at your office desk, or grab a conference room for a little privacy. All you need is a few minutes. You can even try using the exercise below to guide you through it.


Organizations Need to Do Their Job Too

The most important thing organizations need to remember is to listen to their employees and create a work environment they feel safe coming back to. Managers should be on the lookout for emotional stress within their teams. This could mean increased absenteeism or sick days, changes in personality, or a decrease in focus and productivity that may affect deadlines. Should you suspect an employee may be struggling with the transition, be as accommodating as possible and acknowledge this change may be difficult for them. Employees should feel comfortable speaking with the appropriate person should they need to express concerns about what’s going on. 

To help organizations and their employees adapt to these changes related to COVID-19, Total Brain is offering a free three month corporate subscription giving employees a powerful tool to self-monitor and self-care for their mental health during this difficult time. With access to 40+ mind and brain training exercises, employees can reduce their stress and anxiety, while learning to stay focused and productive. In addition, the confidential assessment will notify the user if they may be at risk for a mental health condition, and to seek the appropriate help to address it.

Looking for a way to access Total Brain outside your organization? You can sign up for a personal account as well.

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