How to deal with anxiety as you return to work
Niels Eék, psychologist and co-founder of mental health and self-development platform Remente, gives advice on how to manage your mental health when returning to work
The prospect of going back to work may cause some nervousness and anxiety, especially after spending so long with limited face-to-face contact and perhaps when managing concerns surrounding protecting your physical health.
While the return to work may seem daunting, there are some measures you can take to make the change more manageable. Making sure that you keep a healthy routine by getting enough sleep—around seven to eight hours per night—and exercising regularly are known to help reduce anxiety. However, there are also other ways to protect your mental health at work, from making efforts to manage your environment, to controlling your own mindset.
Upon returning to the office, you may want to keep track of how much time you are devoting to work when you return home in the evenings. Remote working can blur the boundaries between your professional and personal life, so it’s important to re-establish this division, particularly if you have spent the last four months working from home.
Reading and receiving emails and messages outside of working hours can make some people feel more anxious. To combat this, you may want to set clear boundaries at home, where you do not address work emails during certain hours, to give yourself time to de-stress ready for the next day.
"Give yourself time to de-stress ready for the next day"
Of course, some tasks may be urgent, so ask your manager to phone you if something needs to be immediately addressed. That way, you don’t need to be constantly checking your device and can instead focus on your own mental and physical well being.
Go to bed at a time that allows you to rise well-rested, cook nutritious meals that you enjoy, or perhaps take an evening walk to unwind. Returning to work is likely to be a shock after so long, so make sure to do what you need to do to feel relaxed each evening.
Communicate and be open about your concerns
When returning to a social environment, be it personal or professional one, you may find that you feel less confident when in a large group of people. After so long without face-to-face contact, socialising is likely to feel more tiring or stressful than usual. You may also be worried about social distancing rules and prefer not to participate in lengthy conversations, even from a two-metre distance.
Talking to a friend or colleague can be extremely useful when addressing these anxieties. It is good to remember that these feelings are something that many people face, so being open about your emotions is nothing to feel uncomfortable about.
"Remember that it is OK to tell your friends and co-workers that you need some time out"
As much as it is important to maintain good relationships, remember that it is OK to tell your friends and co-workers that you need some time out, as you return to regular interactions with people after months of isolation. It may take some time to adapt to the change in circumstances, but this is totally normal.
You may well find that some of your friends are feeling the same way, so having an open conversation can be the best way to work out what boundaries you all need. The most important thing is to ensure that you are articulating how you are feeling so that you don’t feel a mounting pressure to act in a certain way.
You can help yourself to focus on the positives in the working day by using mindfulness techniques. Adapting to working in an office environment again is a big change and it is easy to be overly self-critical.
Techniques such as journaling can boost self-awareness and make you feel more positive about your working day. While it can be easy to go through a day feeling like you haven’t made much progress, writing down your achievements each day can help you get some perspective on the value of your work. Seeing the day in terms of small victories can help you to reach a more optimistic outlook and become more confident in a professional environment.
"We are going through an unprecedented time of change, so feeling anxious is natural"
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, breathing techniques can help you to relax and get yourself ready to continue with the working day. Try breathing in slowly through your nose, whilst counting to ten, then exhaling slowly through your mouth for another ten seconds, while letting go of the tension in your shoulders. This can be repeated until you feel calmer.
It is important to understand that we are going through an unprecedented time of change, so feeling anxious is a natural response. If you are ever feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope, always seek help from your local GP, who can speak with you directly and/or refer you to a mental health specialist, You can also look to websites such as Anxiety UK, Mind or Rethink Mental Illness for additional resources.
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