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How to protect your mental health at work

The number of people getting vaccinated is rising, and more employers will begin to bring their staff back into the office. Even though most people are working from home, employers believe there are benefits to being in the office. There is a stronger sense of togetherness and energy that aligns when team members are together. For some employees, the thought of returning to the office could bring about an increased level of anxiety.

Felicia Houston, MA, LCPC, CWA works as a Director of Behavioral Health, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Speaker, & Mental Health Consultant where she collaborates with various employers across the Chicagoland area.  She notes there are several things you can do to prepare yourself for the transition.  Before you head back to the office, be open and honest with yourself. Be realistic about going back to the office and allow yourself time to adjust. Think positive, speak up, and express your feelings; many people feel the same way you do.

Here are (9) things you can start doing now:

A) Food – Start incorporating more whole foods in your diet, including fruits, veggies, lean meats, and whole grains. We should stop snacking and mindless eating.

B) Stay hydrated – Drink plenty of glasses of water and take your vitamins.

C) Sleep – Start creating a regular sleep schedule (go to bed early and start waking up earlier).

D) Morning Routine – Refresh your morning routine by getting dressed from head to toe. You could also apply makeup and follow your other morning tasks.

E) Practice your Commute – You can get up and drive to the train station or office. Be mindful of your commute and if there have been any changes to the transportation schedule or route.

F) Set boundaries – You should take your entire lunch break, take your vacation time, and sick days if needed. These boundaries will help protect your mental health.

G) Working Schedule – Create a tight working schedule. Be sure to communicate your start and stop times with your team.  It is not best practice to appear to be available all the time.

H) Coping Tools – Start thinking about items you want to take back to the office with you. The items could include essential oils like lavender or orange. Carry headphones or a small speaker to play soft relaxing music. You could also carry hand sanitizer, wipes, and extra masks to feel safe.

“You cannot control everything, but you can control your response”. – Felicia Houston

Some employees may be reluctant about returning to the office due to the uncertainty of safety and the thought of losing the flexibility that working remotely provided. The leadership teams need to ensure their employees feel safe that their well-being will be considered and protected.

Five Ways Employers can do to support their employees:

  1. Be transparent – Have an open dialogue with the employees. Communicate the proposed plan, safety protocols, and enhanced cleaning schedule.
  2. Plan ahead – Empower the employees to have an opinion on the transition plan because they are directly affected. Provide options for employees, including in-person or WebEx (video or conference calls) for meetings.
  3. Transition schedule – Provide enough notification about when the employees should arrive at the office.  Let the employees know your expectations and if there will be flexible schedules in the future.
  4. Show a video – Send around a video of the current office layout and show the steps taken to keep the employees safe (including hand sanitizer, masks, and cleaning protocols).
  5. Provide resources – Encourage the employees to use their benefits, including the Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and working groups, for support. The EAP can assist with childcare, adult care, and support for mental health services.

All employers and employees will have to strategically work together to ensure a smooth transition.  Felicia consults with various employers across the city of Chicago and notes open communication is critical for a successful transition.  Both parties must remain flexible to create trust and help decide what is best for everyone involved.

Lastly, focus on the positive aspects of going back to the office. Many employees look forward to socializing and reconnecting with their team. The employees can revive their social connections and engage with professional working groups. Another benefit of going to the office includes getting more movement and exercise instead of sitting at the computer all day. Be mindful of office etiquette and the ability to focus with fewer distractions.

Felicia Houston, MA, LCPC, CWA works as the Director of Behavioral Health at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center.  You can connect with her on Facebook @FeliciaHouston and Instagram @feliciamariespeaks.

Theresa Horton is a contributing writer for the Chicago Defender.  

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