COVID-19: How to Cope with Anxiety about Returning to Work

Illustration of a sad woman sitting on the floor holding her knees

As lockdown restrictions are lifted across the world, many of us have been forced back into the working world, and for some, this may be the scariest part of all. Adapting to any change can be difficult but being thrown into the deep end and facing the chance of catching coronavirus is a hard thought to get over.

So, if you’re anything like myself – and the rest of the world – you’re going to have a heart-wrenching feeling about returning to the workplace. So, to help you relieve some of your anxiety, we consulted experts to weigh in on the topic and offer some valuable advice.

Here are 10 tips to help you control your anxiety about returning to work.

1. Be kind to yourself

It’s perfectly normal to feel stressed and scared during these uncertain times, so be kind to yourself and your feelings! Don’t beat yourself up if you feel weak; instead, remind yourself that many people are also feeling the same way.

Rachelle Bloksberg, a licensed marriage and family therapist, suggests that ‘instead of spending time thinking about all the other ingredients needed to create the perfect recipe for your own personal disaster, look in the opposite direction. Ask yourself about the recipe for safety’. And think about what you’re actively doing to keep yourself safe.

2. Ask about any new measures

To make yourself feel more comfortable and get an understanding of what to expect upon your return to work, ask your employer about what precautions they’re putting in place to ensure the safety of staff.

Prepare a list of questions about disinfecting workspaces and communal areas, social distancing measures, and what personal protective equipment (like hand sanitiser and masks) will be made available to staff. If something isn’t in line with the World Health Organization’s workplace guidelines (PDF), be sure to bring this to the HR department’s attention before your start day.

3. Voice your concerns

If you’re feeling anxious, don’t be afraid of voicing your concerns – chances are your colleagues and employer also have the same apprehensions. As well as asking about safety measures, you can create an open discussion between your colleagues to see how they’re feeling and if they have any suggestions.

Caleb Backe from Maple Holistics says: ‘If you are anxious about returning, be open with your line manager or employer about your concerns. Even if there is little that they can do to mitigate your worries, just knowing that you’re anxious can help them to be more understanding and empathetic during this transitional period.’

4. Maintain a good hygiene routine

Personal hygiene is an important factor in staying safe from coronavirus. We’re told to constantly wash our hands and avoid touching our eyes, nose and mouth. For this reason alone, it’s important to keep up a high level of personal hygiene in the workplace to ensure you don’t contract any germs.

In addition, you can place appropriate boundaries with colleagues when it comes to social distancing and wear a mask when you’re in an indoor public space. By following all the recommended rules, you’ll be able to curb your anxiety over returning to work.

5. Ease yourself in

If you’re returning to an office after working from home, ask if you can go to the office every other day. While most workplaces now have a rotation system, there’s no harm in asking to do something similar if yours doesn’t.

As well as easing yourself into the routine of physically being in the workplace, you should also start following your normal office routine, which will involve waking up early, commuting to work and preparing lunch in advance. By following your regular routine before lockdown, you will feel less anxious about going back to work.

6. Practise breathing techniques

Practising various breathing techniques is a proven way of decreasing anxiety, as it slows down your heart rate and makes you more relaxed. When you find yourself getting worked up, take a deep breath in through your nose for five seconds and then breathe out through from your mouth for five seconds. Repeat the process until you’re in a cool and calm state.

Be sure to practise your breathing technique throughout the day to ensure that you don’t have a panic attack on your first day back at work.

7. Stop trying to control everything

If you have anxiety or OCD, it’s a natural instinct to want to control everything. However, the truth is you won’t be able to control other people’s actions or avoid contracting coronavirus. To try and alleviate yourself from obsessing over everything, do all you physically can to stay safe and continue with your life.

To give yourself peace of mind, try to forget about the virus and get on with your life as normal. Now, I’m not suggesting that you stop following social distancing measures, but don’t place all your focus on the latest news around COVID-19!

8. Focus on self-care

A great way to overcome return-to-work anxiety is to focus on self-care. Spend 10 minutes meditating daily, along with anything else that makes you feel content, like taking a bath, reading a book, going for a walk or even focusing on your skincare regime.

Whatever it is, just make sure you dedicate enough ‘me’ time during this pandemic so that you find happiness outside of your regular routine. As we can’t be around friends and family as much, it’s natural that we will look to other areas for comfort.

9. Be prepared

With so many changes in our daily lives and so many things out of our control, it’s essential to be as prepared as possible when returning to work. For some people, this might be preparing and packing work lunches; for others, it could be carrying a generous supply of hand sanitiser, masks and disposable gloves.

Whatever it is, just make sure you’re fully prepared for your return to the office to relieve any lingering anxiety that you may have. It’s natural that you will have to get used to a different way of working, which can include some additional preparation to begin with.

10. Seek professional help

If you can’t rid yourself of the anxiety you’re feeling, you might want to consider seeking professional help. Speak to HR to see if they offer any help at this time or talk to a trained psychologist who will help you manage your feelings.

Additionally, you can talk to your GP to see if they can refer you for online therapy to discuss your emotions and concerns regarding the coronavirus and your return to the workplace.

Feeling anxious over our current global situation is understandable and is something that most people are dealing with. What’s important is how you deal with your feelings. If you’re feeling anxious over returning to work, you could also speak to friends or family members who continued working throughout lockdown to get their perspective on things. You may find that it’s not that scary after all!

Have you been struggling with return-to-work anxiety? Join the conversation below and let us know how you’ve been feeling!