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3 ways to manage anxiety about returning to work and school

Life has changed quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic. For many families, that’s meant finding a new “normal” in their work and school routines. And as schools and workplaces reopen, that means more change — and with it, more anxiety.

It’s normal to feel anxious about big life changes, but planning ahead can help. Here are a few strategies to help manage anxiety about returning to work and school.

Stay safe and be flexible

While many places are reopening, you should still take COVID-19 safety precautions. It’s important to continue physical distancing, wearing a mask, and washing your hands.

Depending on where you work, there may be other safety measures in place, so be sure to plan ahead. Michael Torres, PsyD and clinical psychologist for Kaiser Permanente, recommends studying up on any workplace changes. He also recommends maintaining a healthy attitude to prevent anxiety from getting out of control.

But above all, he says, “be prepared to go with the flow as we return to work and school, as organizations may be scrambling to develop new policies and practices for 2021.”

Boost your physical and mental health

It’s good to have a plan if schools and workplaces reopen, but you should also maintain healthy habits even if these public spaces stay closed.

“I strongly recommend exercise as a primary way of coping during the lockdown. Exercise boosts mood and the immune system, as well as obvious overall benefits to physical health,” Dr. Torres says. “I also recommend using these circumstances to clean up our diets, versus relying on fast foods and junk foods to satisfy cravings. Prepare healthy meals, drink more water and tea, and try to reduce overeating tendencies.”

Offer support for kids

Young children may experience separation anxiety as they head back to school and as their parents return to work. This could mean they:

  • Refuse to sleep alone
  • Panic or have temper tantrums when they’re away from you
  • Worry about their family members’ safety
  • Refuse to go to school

If you notice these symptoms, Dr. Torres says patience and understanding are key. He recommends talking about mental health with children so they know it’s normal to feel nervous or worried. That includes sharing any anxiety you’re feeling as well, so they know they’re not alone.

“Parents and guardians can normalize their children’s anxiety by letting them know they are a little nervous too, but are confident that once they are back at work, they too will be just fine,” Dr. Torres says. “Listen, comfort, hug, and remind them of their resiliency and strength, and that they are safe and loved.”

Dr. Torres also suggests asking for help from schools directly, if possible. Consider taking a field trip to a child’s school campus or having a video call with their teacher. Reminding them of the familiar people and places they’ll be visiting can help them feel safe.

If you still notice an increase in your child’s anxiety, consider talking to a doctor.

“If their anxiety completely interferes with daily functioning,” Dr. Torres says, “consider brief treatment with a mental health professional who may be able to offer more tips and allow another space for your child to vent and express their feelings.”

Finally, if you’d like to explore more self-care tips, tools, and activities, take advantage of our online wellness resources.

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