Many stressed about return to office: Psychiatrist shares tips to cope

Many workers are or have headed back into the office after a two-year disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While schedules may be returning to normal, Dr. Erica Call, a psychiatrist with Atrium Health Floyd in Rome, says many people are not back to business as usual.

"Some people are now afraid to go back into the workplace, whether it be for fear of contracting COVID or (missing) the comforts of being home," Dr. Call says. "Also, for people that have things like social anxiety, now they have all those sense and triggers reactivated by going back into the workplace."

A new Associated Press NORC poll found 72% of Americans are back to working in person.

The employees back on the job say more work is getting done, but 41% say their stress has worsened since returning to their office.

Some of the top stressors cited were exposure to the coronavirus, commuting to and from work, maintaining a work/life balance and interacting with coworkers.

Dr. Call says many employees who are back on the job may be realizing how stressful their job was before the pandemic.

"Because they see how much different it is from being able to work from home, or reduced hours," Call says. People are making decisions of, 'Do I want to continue on this work track, or do I just quit or work part-time?'  This is a pivotal time for people in making decisions on which way they should go in their lives."

Call some of her patients have told her being around their coworkers again has raised some old tensions.

"A lot of patients tell me they have issues with their supervisors, and they don't feel comfortable with confrontation," she says.

"Usually that starts to cause a patient to become undone. They may be passive-aggressive. They may avoid individuals. Usually it's something that brews and grows on its own, if it's not directly addressed."

For those feeling bullied at work, Dr. Call recommends talking to a boss or human resources department, if there is one, rather than self-addressing the bullying.

Still, she says, for those just not seeing eye-to-eye with a coworker, have a conversation about it.

"Don't be afraid to talk to the people who you work with," Dr. Call says.  "They don't bite. Usually the consequences in our minds are much more negative than the reality of what will happen."