How to cope with return to work anxiety after lockdown

It’s been a strange year. As the world has reacted to the many challenges and concerns brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have found ourselves in situations that we never imagined were possible.

At the start of the pandemic, many of us were sent to work from home, or furloughed from our roles completely. And now, as we continue to adjust to a new way of working and living, many people are experiencing what has become known as ‘return to work anxiety’.

If you’re struggling, you’re not alone. We’ve created a helpful guide outlining everything that you need to know about coping with return to work anxiety, whether you’re struggling to return to work after being furloughed, you're nearing the end of your maternity leave, or you’ve been off work following a long illness.

First and foremost, it’s completely normal to feel anxious, nervous and unsettled before returning to work after lockdown, whether you’ve been working from home or furloughed. With the vast majority of us having never experienced a pandemic before, it has been a challenging and traumatic time for us all. It’s a totally new concept for many of us to spend so much time at home and to be restricted in terms of what we can do and who we can spend time with. Not to mention the worry about our health and the health of our loved ones.

So be kind to yourself and don’t feel guilty for having these anxious feelings. What’s important is that you learn how to manage them effectively, so that you can regain some routine and sense of normality in your life again. We also recommend reading our handy guide on techniques for controlling post-lockdown anxiety.

Here are our top tips for dealing with return to work anxiety after being furloughed

Talk to your employer

They say that a problem shared is a problem halved and this is certainly the case when it comes to tackling your worries and anxiety about returning to the workplace.

Whether you’re worried about being exposed the virus at work, you’re worried about spreading the virus to those more vulnerable than you, or childcare is currently an issue, there are lots of reasons to feel concerned. This is why it’s so important to talk to your employer, even if you are just looking for some reassurance to make yourself feel better. They should have already carried out a thorough risk assessment and will have the answers to many of your concerns.

Your employer will also be able to advise you on what you can expect when you return to work, including any measures they have implemented, any structural changes, changes to the layout of your office and building, as well as any changes to your shift patterns and break times.

Coping tactics

When you can feel yourself becoming anxious, there are lots of coping tactics to help you to relax and refocus. When you’re experiencing anxiety, it’s likely that your heart will beat faster and, as a result, you will breathe more quickly. This can make you feel dizzy, disorientated and even more anxious than before.

With this in mind, you should stop what you’re doing, breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for three seconds, and breathe out for six seconds. This deep breathing technique will help to calm your body and mind.

Maintain a good daily routine

Even though it can seem almost impossible to maintain a good daily routine at the moment, it is important to have a positive and rewarding structure to your day. This will help to instil a sense of normality back into your life.

Activities such as exercise, spending time with family, and doing the things you enjoy, can provide a great distraction from our anxieties and help to re-focus our minds.

It's also important to have a healthy sleeping pattern, disturbed nights’ sleep can have a huge impact on our energy levels, mood and ability to function. If you've been off work and need to get back into a proper sleeping routine, then see our tips on how to fix your sleeping pattern.

Anxiety about returning to work after having a baby or a long illness

It’s only natural to feel some anxiety about returning to work after having a baby or being off work due to a long illness. As well as the tips above, there are a number of other factors to consider as a new parent returning to work or if you’re returning to work following an illness.

Consider your working hours

Do your working hours accommodate your needs as a new parent, or will they impact your long-term recovery plan following an illness? You may need to consider reduced hours or condensed working hours.

Practice runs

When you’ve been off work for so long, it’s hard to imagine battling the morning commute again, being able to concentrate for more than five minutes, or even remembering how to do your job. All of these concerns can make your anxiety worse, so it’s worthwhile visiting your workplace prior to your return so you can familiarise yourself with your working environment again. Even time that morning commute to work is worth preparing for so you’re not late or stressed on your first day.

Seek support

You should always seek support when needed and don’t be afraid to ask for extra training or a refresher course after returning to work following a long period of time off. Your employer would rather that you were open and honest with them.

If your anxieties become too much to manage on your own, do not hesitate to seek medical help. There are a wide range of treatments out there that have been designed to treat your anxiety symptoms effectively, as well as a whole host of therapies. To find out more about managing return to work anxiety, please get in touch.