Are you teetering on the brink of back-to-office burnout? Being back in the workplace on a regular basis has left many people feeling exhausted, anxious or simply feel like it’s all getting too much – despite the fact we spent 18 months longing for a return to “real life”. The pace of life has inevitably ramped up a gear or two, and left people drowning in social commitments, work, and their general feelings.
“A lot of us are feeling overwhelmed,” agrees Jodie Cariss, therapist and founder of Self Space, an instant therapy service that offers virtual as well as IRL appointments. “And we’re feeling fazed by what it means to return to something, whether that’s the office or life, because in many cases there are things that we don’t actually want to return to. Some of us are faced with more challenges we don’t want to deal with, while others will be feeling overstimulated. Things can feel noisy and busy, and there are now different stresses from those we coped with in lockdown – including other people’s expectations. We’ve emerged from this period like jellyfish, without any protective skin.”
Instead of viewing this transitory period as a return to life as it was before, Cariss suggests viewing it as more of a brave new world. “Ask yourself, what are you beginning? What are you taking with you, afresh?” Below, Cariss and Lisa Butcher, a hypnotherapist and energy healer, share their expert tips on how to make adjusting to yet more change that little bit easier.
Accept how you’re feeling
First up is just to notice that you’re overwhelmed, and sit with that feeling. “Don’t try and push past it or busy yourself away from it – just take a moment to go, ‘Urgh, this is how I’m feeling,’” says Cariss. This helps the feeling to land. After that, she advises setting aside a moment to understand what it is you feel overwhelmed about right now, whether that’s a work project, or your responsibilities as a parent or an employee.
Try 7-11 breathing
“Anxiety comes from over-thinking, so it’s important to focus on the body rather than your thoughts. A great way of doing that is via the breath,” says Butcher. She recommends the 7-11 breathing technique, where you breathe in through your nose for a count of seven, then breathe out through the mouth for a count of 11, making a sighing sound. “Do this for five to 10 rounds, or however long it takes you to calm your anxiety – it sends signals to your parasympathetic nervous system to calm down.”
Make time for the things that are good for you
Sounds simple, but when most of us get overwhelmed at work (or in life), the first things to fly out of the window are those that actually help to keep our minds and bodies balanced. “Try to make space for the things that you know keep you well,” Cariss recommends. “Sleeping, eating well, drinking water, avoiding too much booze and not over-committing are the basics for good mental health, but in practice they are quite hard to do.” These good habits keep us buoyant and healthy, particularly at overwhelming times, so be sure to prioritise them.
Try the BEN technique
“If you feel yourself getting triggered by someone in the office, or you feel hot and suffer churning in your stomach, try the BEN exercise,” says Butcher.
- B stands for breath. Instead of reacting in the moment that you are triggered, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- E stands for escape. Make an excuse to leave the room, and go outside for some fresh air or hide out for five minutes in the toilet.
- N stands for new role. Imagine who you would like to be in this situation. Think how that person would act. How would they speak to fight their corner? Put on a mask and imagine being that person. It’s incredible how quickly this exercise can help defuse any tricky situations. “I often think of Oprah,” says Butcher.
How to make your commute feel positive
The worst thing about going back to work has to be the commute, right? The trick is to make it as easy and pleasurable as it can be. Cariss’s first top tip is to ensure you’re wearing comfortable footwear, “because when our feet hurt, our head hurts too and we can’t concentrate on anything else”. She also advocates doing the things that bring you comfort, from breath work or listening to a podcast, to putting on a luxurious lip balm or fragrance. “Reading is also a really nice way to bring yourself back to a more focused place,” she adds. Whatever you do, avoid reading your emails.
Butcher also advises getting off the Tube or bus a few stops earlier to walk to work through nature. “Walking by trees can help to calm anxiety, depression and stress – remember to breathe as you walk and take it all in.”
A simple trick that helps alleviate back-to-work (or Sunday) fear is simply to plan ahead. “Sometimes just deciding what to wear to work can be overwhelming,” says Butcher. “Lay out your clothes the night before; pack your bag before you go to bed; remind yourself how many times you have done this before and that going into the office isn’t something new.”
Make lists of how you’re feeling
The power of writing down what we are grateful for – aka a gratitude journal – is well documented, but Cariss also says that ingratitude lists can be helpful too. “Write down all the things that are driving you mad, or which make you feel frustrated – don’t push yourself to feel gracious all the time.” Instead, she says, embrace the feelings that are coming up for you, whether that’s anger, jealousy or feeling left out.
Original article appeared on VOGUE UK | Author Hannah Coates