Anxiety when returning to the office

As employees start back at work after a much-needed summer holiday, many workplaces have started the transition back into the office. Whilst this will be a gradual process, some employees may be feeling slightly uneasy or anxious about returning to the office. Even over the holiday period, people had to manage their anxieties around virus hotspots, keeping many on edge. This environment of change and uncertainty has left many people feeling worried or anxious, and this is an understandable response.

What you may be feeling

You may be experiencing some feelings of anxiety around this next transition back into the office. This is known as anticipatory anxiety. These are feelings that occur when you are fearful or anxious about an imagined, unpredictable future situation for an extended period of time. This anxiety is a normal response to this novel situation, due to the transition you experienced in 2020, as your life suddenly restricted you to your home. You are in a better position this time around though, as you have the time, resources, and experience to put you in good-stead to move through this change with your life and mental health intact.

Many people are feeling anxious about:

  • Travelling to and from the office perhaps on public transport
  • Leaving pets at home who have become used to having company for the entire day
  • Communicating with colleagues who you may not have seen in person for some time
  • Having a faster pace of life again with commuting, a busy job and caring for family and friends
  • Losing some aspects of a work from home routine that you have enjoyed

Whatever the cause of your anxiety, here are some strategies to help you actively manage these feelings so that you can stay on top of your anxiety.

Keeping your anxiety in check

  1. Harness your thinking. Bouts of anxiety and worry can make us feel overwhelmed emotionally, and this can make it harder to think straight. There are things you can do to reign in your thoughts, and take back control over your misbehaving brain. Anxiety can sometimes make us assume that worst-case scenarios are more likely than they really are. If you notice a lot of negative thoughts filtering through your mind, try to stop them in their tracks, and reflect on whether this is a rational thought, or an overreaction. Use facts and reputable information to combat your negative assumptions.
  2. Plan your transition. Often when you are anxious about a transition, it is because you are focusing on things that are out of your control. It is important to keep your focus on what you can control, and this will bring your mind back into the rational pre-frontal cortex. Plan how you are going to transition back into working from the office and spending your leisure time. It can be helpful to write down how you are going to prepare yourself for this transition. Some examples include: speaking with your manager about your transition back to work, planning out your commute (don’t forget your mask if it is mandatory in your State), discussing with your family the delegation of household-chores, what activities you will recommence (yoga, gym) and what activities you will no longer continue with. When you start to focus on the steps you can take and what you can expect, this brings more control to the situation which boosts your wellbeing.
  3. Adjust your expectations. Acknowledge that you may need to adjust your expectations on yourself and others during this transition. Just as in any transition, things will not always go to plan. So be kind to yourself. While you are in transition, adjust your expectations and know you are doing the best you can. 

It’s normal to feel anxious or stressed about COVID-19, but as we learn to live with the virus and get a few more of our freedoms back, it’s important that we don’t let this feeling get out of hand. If you feeling increasingly anxious about your return to the workplace, it might be time to reach out to a professional for help.