Dear Dr. Andrea,
My office is now gearing up to begin having us come in again for the first time since mid-March, and I have been looking forward to this because I really enjoy being around my co-workers and I find that I don’t work as well when I’m at home. Now that the reality is coming, though, I have to face the fact that I have gained significant weight while being at home. I knew it was happening but didn’t do much about it. My routine was completely wrecked once I started being at home — I no longer walk to and from Metro stops, stopped going to my gym and stopped cooking particularly healthy meals since takeout and frozen foods felt easier and more available than a lot of different fresh ingredients.
I am not usually one to over-obsess about weight but the fact is, I doubt many of my work clothes will fit comfortably, and worst of all, I am embarrassed about having to be seen by my co-workers this way. It’s very different than just being on video conference. I know there are far worse worries in the world, but this has gotten me down and made me dread something that I had been looking forward to quite a bit.
— I let things go
The isolation that comes from unexpected telework is no joke, and it can take such a toll mentally. You know this, of course, but I’m wondering if you’ve forgotten one crucial aspect of it: that you haven’t really seen how your co-workers are faring either, while they have likely been going through similar struggles. It can be hard to remember you’re not alone in this, when you may feel more alone than ever, away from the people you usually spend time with. But not only may your co-workers be feeling similar concerns, but they may look different too. Maybe some of them have put on a few pounds too. Or perhaps some of them are showing roots that reveal a hair color they hate.
So, you’re not alone and I bet that this dread has a concrete expiration date: just a few hours after you are back in the office and have seen (and been seen by) everyone in person. It’s like first-day-of-school jitters that way. You can help prepare yourself in whatever way feels authentic to you: having a joke about it at the ready, or treating yourself to a couple of new professional outfits that help you feel more comfortable, or mentioning your vulnerability beforehand to a co-worker you most trust.
But something else sticks out to me here: you enjoy being around your co-workers. So, unless you are a masochist, they will not be the type of people to make this difficult for you. Let’s embrace the gem of co-worker good will for what it is, and remember that their company is still something to look forward to. And you have gone without their in-person smiles and spontaneous conversation for months now, so you’re probably underestimating how good it will feel to just be back with them, and be valued for you, not your size. They are not there as pageant judges, but as people who are looking just as forward to reconnecting with you as you are with them.
Also, ask yourself what it is about carrying a little extra weight that feels most difficult, and try to catch yourself in the dysfunctional stories that you may be telling yourself. Are you saying that your appearance defines you? That some understandable changes in eating or exercise patterns due to a complete life disruption make you somehow a lesser person? That you aren’t allowed some flexibility when going through an incredibly difficult experience?
You signed your name “I let things go,” which you probably meant as a dig at yourself that didn’t eat or exercise in your usual ways during a global pandemic. But I’d like to flip it as a hopeful reframe. Have it be an affirmation of what you don’t have to carry with you as you count down toward returning to the office. If you can bring yourself to breathe through this negative voice, and let things go that don’t immediately help you or give you insight, then you will return to the big picture: that you’re about to be back with people who will make your days better, not worse.