Returning to work amid COVID-19 can bring anxieties, health concerns

After millions of Americans have been dealing with weeks of working from home, furloughs or unemployment amid the COVID-19 pandemic, returning to work can come with a lot of anxiety and health concerns as restrictions begin to lift.

How can you make the transition healthy, both physically and mentally?

Evan Wilkerson's commute to work, for example, looks a little different these days. 

"Once I get to the office, I put on my mask as I walk into the building." And he immediately takes his temperature upon arrival, sits at least six feet from his nearest co-worker and keeps sanitizer handy between frequent hand-washing.

Experts at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center say this new normal can be hard to grasp but it's important not to let your guard down as restrictions lift. In fact, things like virtual meetings should continue as people are phased back into the workplace.

"Handshakes, things that we usually do to show physical support for one another, will also not be allowable. So we'll have to find new ways to connect in this new work environment," said Dr. K. Luan Phan with Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.

The fear of infection combined with a lack of personal contact can be extremely stressful, and because physical and mental health are dependent on each other it's important to take care of both.

"As they're washing their hands, take some good big abdominal deep breaths. Say some positive, calming self-statements. Little things like that can go a long way to reducing stress," suggested Bernadette Melnyk from The Ohio State University College of Nursing.

In addition to stress relief, being as prepared as possible to fight off serious illness is critical.

"We want our immune systems functioning at peak capacity," Melnyk said. That means getting plenty of exercise, at least seven hours of sleep each night and maintain a healthy diet.

But it also means finding ways to calm fears and find a sense of community. And just as family and friends have found ways to support each other throughout this crisis, so will coworkers.

"What we need to do now is to extend that culture of caring and of safety beyond our immediate family and friends circle into the workplace circle. Because our colleagues are ultimately our family as well," said Dr. Phan.

Taking five, deep abdominal breaths a day can actually cut the sympathetic response which is what raises our blood pressure and puts us in that fight or flight mode. 

And when you do go back to work be aware that some people will be less concerned but some may feel very anxious, and it's important that everyone is clearly sharing the goal of not spreading the virus.