With many of us returning to the office again following 18 months of working from home, it’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed. We hear from Jenny Devonshire, founder of new wellness portal, Pause2Perform, who reveals her top tips on managing and overcoming back to work anxiety…
What is back to work anxiety’?
After working from home for over a year, many of us are feeling anxious about returning to the office. It may manifest as a feeling of dread, a bit like ‘Sunday fear’, as the weekend comes to an end, before getting ‘back to the grind’ on Monday.
You may experience feelings of unease without being able to put your finger on it. Or, you might feel overwhelmed at the thought of getting back into a routine and what that entails.
Anxiety is often associated with ‘what if’ feelings. This is where you worry about future events that are yet to happen and ‘catastrophise’, to come up with worst case scenarios. Anxiety about returning to work could also result in physical symptoms such as headaches, gastrointestinal issues and difficulty sleeping.
Why am I experiencing back to work anxiety?
There are many reasons you might be experiencing anxiety about returning to work. Much of this anxiety stems from the uncertainty associated with it. When will you have to return? Will you have to go back full time? What will be expected of you on your return? All these questions add to this sense of unease.
There are also many genuine fears associated with the return to work. As we head into winter, some may be worried about the possibility of catching Covid-19. This might be especially true if your commute involves using busy public transport.
On the other hand, there are some people who are more worried about mixing with large numbers of people again after reduced social contact – particularly if they are predisposed to social anxiety.
How can I manage back to work anxiety?
There are a few techniques anyone can employ to help cope with these feelings of anxiety:
Tapping (also known as emotional freedom technique – EFT) is a fantastic tool when experiencing feelings of anxiety. This is based on Chinese medicine and the meridians, which are believed to be areas of the body that energy flows through.
It is thought that tapping sends signals to the area of the brain that controls stress, helping to alleviate it. Some believe that it works by creating a distraction, as it provides another sensation to experience and focus on, rather than your negative thoughts.
There are 5 steps in the tapping process. First, you need to identify your fears (such as the commute to work). Then you need to test the initial intensity of the emotion. Next, establish a phrase that explains the issue you’re trying to address and accepting yourself despite it. Repeat the phrase whilst tapping the 12 meridians and finally testing the final intensity.
Need more guidance on tapping? Check out the tutorial video below:
Identify your fears
Much of the anxiety we experience is due to fear of what might happen in the future, rather than genuine threats in the present. It is important to understand that these feelings are to be expected and you are not alone.
Get clear on your fears and then objectively analyse what the chances of this reality coming to fruition really are. If these are genuine fears that have a real possibility of coming true, come up with a plan of what you could do to either reduce the likelihood of its occurrence or what options there are for coping with the scenario.
Focus on the positives
Write down the positives of going back into the office. Shifting your focus from the negatives can help change your mindset regarding the situation. Also try practicing mindfulness, where you focus on keeping your attention in the present moment rather than letting your thoughts spiral into ‘what ifs’.
If your anxiety is impossible to manage and it is having a negative impact on your life for an extended period of time, it may be time to seek professional help via your GP.
Talk to your colleagues and boss about your back to work anxiety
It may be helpful to think about the source of your anxiety, as clarifying exactly what it is that is worrying you will enable your boss or HR to help come up with a solution. For example, if the thought of a commute at rush hour is causing your anxiety, you might be able to alter your hours to enable you to avoid this.
Remember that you are not alone in experiencing these feelings, many people are struggling with this and by opening up to your colleagues, you are helping them be honest about their own struggles.
HR should be aware of the challenges associated with returning to work and the fact that some people will find the transition difficult and will have procedures in place to support their staff.
How workplaces can ease the transition for everyone
HR should acknowledge that this is a difficult period and that those returning to work may be struggling. To ease the transition, we should encourage managers to be patient with their staff. Where possible, they should also be more flexible with when and how work is completed.
Employees should be encouraged to share their challenges to create a level of psychological safety within the workplace. To encourage open communication from employees, bosses and HR could normalise the expression of fears by sharing their own worries.
There should always be transparency about any decisions that may impact staff, to manage the uncertainly as much as possible. Given the nature of the pandemic, it is likely that things will continue to change.
Because of this, HR and bosses should keep their employees in the loop with any possible adjustments to working conditions. If possible, they should also ask employees for their input on how to make the transition easier for everyone.
Pause2Perform is a new online portal which is accessible 24/7. It contains videos explaining various techniques for coping with stress, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. There are also online quizzes to assess whether people are suffering from stress or anxiety and where to get help if needed.
On the site, you’ll also find online classes and practices you can follow, including workout, yoga, Pilates, strength and HIIT training; all of which may help individuals cope with their feelings of anxiety.
Pause2Perform offers both in-person and online workshops, covering stress management and resilience training. This can help employees develop the skills to cope with the challenges associated with returning to work and beyond. Find out more at Pause2Perform.co.