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Heading Back to the Office? Here’s How to Preserve Your Mental Health

I'm walking on the beach last night, sorting shells in the palm of my hand, when my phone vibrates: "JSK Wedding Party" lights up as a Facebook video call.

"What's up everyone," I say to six familiar faces on video, faces I've loved since I was 15, through all our various stages and locations in life.

"So, we going to this wedding or not?" One of them grins, we all chuckle.

In October, we're meant to travel overseas to France for our friend's wedding. It's going to be a beautiful affair, full of nostalgic, high-school love… and we are all terrified to bite the bullet and actually buy the (expensive) tickets.

Will there be another COVID-19 strain by then?
Will we have to quarantine in Europe?
Is it safe to go overseas?
Which countries allow Americans at this point?
What vaccination proofs do we need?
Are tickets adjustable?

While the anxiety and stress of traveling are frustrating, it reminds me that many people are facing this, and more, as they return to the office with all the looming unknowns of 'what next?'

It's a weird feeling to think how the future is, by nature, entirely unpredictable -- but I'm even more acutely aware of that fact with an ongoing pandemic that continues to rage across the country. Everything feels like it's in the balance.

For people forced back into the office or being asked to at least come in a couple of days a week, how do you make that adjustment after over a year at home? What's changed? Will it be awkward coming back in?

We spoke to a couple of ERC Pathlight team members to get some ideas on how to navigate this unknown period if you're being asked to come back to the office.

Here's what they had to say about how you can prepare, manage, and create a new routine in light of our strange, new realities.

Tatum Carter, MA, Alumni & Family Liaison at ERC Pathlight, advises:

  1. Listen to your body, and do not push yourself to appease those around you
    Acknowledge that this is a significant change; it's not normal. Nothing has really been 'normal' over the last year or two. Take inventory of your body throughout the day when you first get back into the office. Are you anxious? At ease? Don't push to appease those around you. You'll likely find shared common ground as we all navigate the oddness of these transitions.
  2. Journal about your feelings and the events of each day
    It's hard to gauge how we feel when surrounded by other people. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to jot down how you're feeling - what comes up for you when you reflect on your time spent in the office?

Niki DuBois, MSSW, LMSW, Alumni/Family Liaison ERC Pathlight, adds:

  1. Create an end-of-day ritual that will signal that the workday has ended
    Whatever that is for you, movement of your body, making dinner, playing with your cat or dog, child, or spending quality time with your significant other. Whatever it is, form a habit that helps you transition out of the workday.
  2. Listen to a meditation on the commute home
    There are so many guided meditations available on the internet, and don't worry - you don't have to commit an hour to meditating (although you may want to once you get the hang of it!) Even if you are a beginner, there are many you can try, like this ERC meditation!
  3. Engage in movement
    Movement is whatever you want it to be. Go on a walk around the neighborhood and call your parent or friend. Practice yoga with your partner in the living room while dinner's in the oven. Or whatever it is that makes you feel like you're able to shed some of the stress and anxiety of the day. Something about movement helps clear the mind so we don't feel stuck in the same thinking patterns.
  4. Change out of work clothes
    For many, it will be weird to finally put a pair of slack pants back on or dress shirt. Some of us wonder if that will ever really be a 'thing' again or if we've all resigned ourselves to yoga pants and oversized sweaters. Whatever your position is, changing out of the work clothes is still crucial to feeling like you've 'ended the day' and will help you relapse into your night routine at home or beyond.

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