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How to mentally prepare to head back to work during COVID-19 pandemic

Many workplaces could begin bringing employees back into the office as most of the state enters the final stage of reopening this weekend.

INDIANAPOLIS — As most of Indiana prepares to enter Stage 5 of reopening this weekend, many companies might be considering bringing more employees back to the office. 

After months of working from home in this "new normal," for certain people, that could create a little anxiety, given spikes of COVID-19 cases in certain states. 

In several polls surveying how comfortable employees are about heading back to their workplace, one of the top concerns was getting sick.

It's why Dr. Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist, said communication and mental preparedness are key. 

"The first advice is reconnecting with what psychologists call our 'best friend at work,' and almost everyone has one," Eurich said. "This is the person that is your 'work husband' or your 'work wife' — the person that you share things with you trust. Being able to connect to that person really honestly and vulnerably is huge right now."

Eurich said for those who've conquered working from home, they can certainly confront heading back during a pandemic. She has simple steps to help get your mind right to return to the office. 

"Focus on what you're grateful for. This is such a scary time for everyone. To have our health, to have a job that we get to go to, those are no small feat," Eurich said. "We should be celebrating the small victories. It could be something as small as 'Hey, I put on real pants today,' or 'I got to leave the house today.' That is a big achievement, and it's something that I'm excited to do. So, don't lose sight of those little things either."

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Eurich did add, if employees spy coworkers not following company-mandated guidelines, speak out, but be gracious. 

"I would consider easing into it, not coming in and saying, 'Gary wasn't wearing a mask the other day,' but instead saying, 'I've noticed once or twice, but not everyone was wearing masks.' That way, you're sort of part of the solution instead of singling people out," Eurich said.

She said it's normal to feel a little anxious — it's the natural human instinct of fight or flight — and it's our mind's job to protect our bodies, in this case, from COVID-19. That's why she encourages having an open dialogue with a manager if employees are feeling uncomfortable once they get back into the office.

While Eurich said being vigilant and following office guidelines are key to staying safe and healthy, don't fall into what psychologists call the "fallacy of extrapolation." That essentially says what's happening now will continue to happen in the future, which history shows won't always be the case. 

She concluded to think of it as having a "right now plan" and not a "forever plan" — just take it day by day.