World Mental Health Day is observed on October 10 every year to spread awareness about the condition faced by millions globally.
During the Covid-induced lockdowns and even after that people managed to learn the art of balancing office work at home together with other household chores, many a times even without the aid of a house help. For such people, returning to offices, getting into a new routine, and managing both family time and office can turn stressful.
This is particular in the case of women, who could spend more time being at home with family, kids as well as work.
But, significant drop in Covid cases and a successful vaccination programme has prompted many employers to reopen their offices again.
"The transition to work from office has been marked by stress and hesitation for many. Anxiety around being infected with Covid, differential risk perception and continuing caregiving roles for children and the elderly at home have made the return to physical offices complicated, especially for women," Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director Population Foundation of India, told IANS.
"By forcing women back into the workplace, companies run the risk of losing them entirely. Instead, employers need to put in place policies to allow women to return to physical offices in a flexible manner that promotes work-life balance and safeguards both women and men from stress and anxiety," she added.
Not all will feel stressed, experts said. For some it may be a relief to be back to the routine and to restart their social life and activities.
The anticipation of months coupled with the promise of social gatherings and familiarity of a workplace, which is disconnected from several distractions at home, is strong.
However, employers also need to be considerate, and allow them time to settle instead of imposing tight controls, use empathetic approaches to help relieve anxieties of resuming work in offices. This can not only protect employees' mental health but also promote productivity, the experts suggested.
"Returning to offices can be stressful or comforting. depending on personal attitudes and office environment. A socially engaging person will be happy to return to the company of colleagues, while an introvert may feel challenged by the need to mingle and mix after a long time away," K. Srinath Reddy is the president of the Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi, told IANS.
At the same time "the office environment should also be made pleasant and congenial, to help people resettle rather than imposing strict routines and tight controls. A flexible routine, of work from home for part of the week, will be ideal if the nature of work permits that. This will help the employee to productively use time without becoming imprisoned by a restrictive routine", he added.
But can altering office spaces make any difference to mental health, especially now when people are returning from the comfort of their homes? Yes, deploying design strategies that ensure a seamless and rewarding experience may help employees, said Jayesh Ganesh, Regional Head of Edifice Consultants - a Bengaluru-based architectural design firm.
"Elevating the experience of the office from a workplace to a hospitality setting, creating quiet zones and quiet rooms to help those with anxieties or those on the spectrum cope up better with re-entry and ensuring that ano one is left behind' can all help," Ganesh told IANS.
Office spaces must now move into the realm of understanding and addressing challenges as mental and emotional needs in the workplace through care and compassion, he added.
According to Dr Samir Parikh, Director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, at Fortis Healthcare, people must trust their ability to adapt.
"When we started with our Covid experience, shifted to work from home, the lockdowns, isolation and quarantine, we took time to adapt to it. But we were able to do it. Similarly, going back to work, we have to understand that we will take a little bit of time," Parikh told IANS.
The mantea is "take one step at a time, that is one day at a time", he said.
Further, to cope with the office stresses, one must try and maintain a rhythm and routine of life, make sure to be as productive as you can be, utilise your connections, and stay in touch with your support systems.
"Keep talking to people and you'll realise we are all in the same boat. Maintain a sense of optimism, positivity and understand that it will take a little bit of time for us to get back on track," he suggested.