Reopening and Returning to the Office: What to Consider

Written by Alex Cameron

(3 min read)

As of July 1, many jurisdictions across Canada saw a lifting of health restrictions as COVID-19 numbers continue to fall in many parts of the country and mounting pressure to ‘return to normal’ increases. Alberta and Saskatchewan, for example, have lifted all restrictions (provincially) while Alberta has given authority to municipalities and business owners to decide what restrictions they wish to keep in place. Other provinces continue to have restrictions in place such as face coverings and physical distancing. As changes begin and restrictions lift, many that have been working remotely will begin to be invited/expected to return to the workplace and end their 10 foot commute. For those essential workers that have been working throughout the entirety of the pandemic, we thank you!

It is important to identify what this means for yourself and your feelings about returning to work and sharing workspace with more than your family, pets, or no one at all. Most that will be returning to work, will be doing so to a different environment than the one that they left. Social distancing? Disinfecting surfaces/tools/workspaces? Continuous masking? Removal of working from home options? Many of these questions have not been answered for individuals and may not be for some time. You may be experiencing feelings of stress, distress, anxiety, etc. It is completely natural to experience such feelings throughout the pandemic as our entire lifestyle shifted.

In Optimity’s quiz in March of 2021, the question was asked how users felt about returning to the workplace and nearly half (46%) identified as neutral with the other results:

16% – Enthusiastic

15% – Not enthusiastic

13% – Not at all enthusiastic

10% – Very enthusiastic

For those that chose ‘neutral,’  ‘not enthusiastic,’ or ‘’not at all enthusiastic’ they were asked what was worrying them and the majority stated, ‘nothing’ while a number also identified COVID. 

The sweeping changes that society has undergone in the last nearly year and a half, have occurred swiftly and without knowing exactly what was going to happen next. Anxiety is based on the unknown and that can be a major driver of stress in individuals. Stress can be a direct cause of fear, anger, sadness, worry, or numbness. You may also experience shifts in your sleep, difficulty eating or engaging in your interests. While others may even notice physical symptoms or a worsening of mental or physical health conditions as well. 

So What Do I Do?

First, take notice of any unhealthy coping strategies to manage your stress. Focussing on making shifts to these habits is just as important as seeking healthy ones. If your unhealthy habits are out of control to manage on your own, then seek out a mental health or substance use professional to work with.

If you notice that your stressors are high at work and it is affecting you in negative ways, then taking the right steps as early as possible is key. CMHA Ontario produced a toolkit for returning to work that can be found here – https://ontario.cmha.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/CMHA_ReturnToWorkplace-Toolkit_EN-Final.pdf In this document there are tips for speaking with your employer that are not only helpful, but they are incredibly practical as well. Taking the first step is usually both the hardest and the most important.

As well, checking in with your coworkers, friends, and family can be tremendously important to feel that you are not isolated or alone in what you are experiencing. This is going to be a time of unknowns and change, which can be uncomfortable. Know that it is completely normal to feel that discomfort and that there are others feeling the same. Checking in can help you feel supported, less isolated, and connected with those that are important to you. We are all in this together!

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About Alex Cameron

Alexander Cameron is a psychotherapist with a private practice based in Ontario and Alberta. He specializes in mental health and has held several supervisory roles in both clinical and community settings. Alexander has also done extensive work around men’s mental health with agencies such as Movember Canada and Next Gen Men and can be found at alexandercameron.ca

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