Tips to beat returning to work anxiety

So, you’ve just got the company-wide email – it’s time for everyone to head back to the office. How you feeling?

Excited for the return of routine and human contact? Or terrified at the prospect of putting on real clothes and leaving the safety of your living room?

Well, more than two thirds (68%) of Brits think businesses should give workers the choice to work from home going forward, and of those, 41% say that it would improve the population’s mental health, according to a survey of more than 2,000 people by Oak Engage.

The survey shows 76% of office workers do not wish to return to the office full-time and a third (33%) report that if they had to go back permanently they would look for other roles.

Over 23% indicated that if they had to go back to the office permanently, they would consider leaving or resigning.

It’s not surprising. For those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home over the last year, many of us have become accustomed to the benefits of increased flexibility, more freedom over time management, and not having to commute. So the thought of losing all of that is bound to cause some anxiety.

However, working from home doesn’t work for everyone. There have also been lots of reports of WFH burnout, people working much longer hours, and an inability to separate work and leisure – which is having an impact on mental health.

Returning to the office may have some benefits – not least the increased human contact and levels of interaction. Also, many people won’t have a choice in the matter. If the bosses say you have to go back, you have to go back.

So, what can you do if you’re feeling particularly anxious about returning to the office?

Employee wellbeing experts, Oak Engage and behavioural psychologist at Durham University, Dr Mario Weick, have shared their top tips on beating that return to work anxiety, and above all improving happiness as the world starts to open up again.

Know what support is available to you

It’s important to know what policies and procedures are in place at your company and your rights to working during the pandemic and beyond.

‘People should familiarise themselves with the latest health and safety measures put in place during the pandemic,’ says Mario. ‘Knowing what exactly is happening can increase one’s sense of control, which in turn reduces anxiety.’

Routine, routine, routine

The pandemic has meant that everyone isn’t used to their normal routine, including work schedules and sleep patterns. So, make sure you get back into the swing of things and give yourself time to adapt.

Mario comments: ‘Routines are powerful devices that help us stay on track. Routines can boost happiness and wellbeing because they make it easier to achieve our goals.

During the pandemic, many of us found it difficult to maintain a healthy sleep routine. Disturbances of the circadian rhythm often go hand in hand with feeling down or anxious.

‘Re-establishing our day and night routines can be a way to reset our biological body clock and return to our pre-pandemic self.’

Be kind to yourself and others

Be kind to your mind and body. Exercise is key for tackling stress and even going for a 15 minute walk can reduce anxiety. But remember to take it easy and don’t put too many expectations on yourself and your exercise routine.

‘Self-compassion is an antidote to anxiety and depression,’ adds Mario. ‘Self-compassion implies being less self-critical and more kind and understanding toward oneself.

‘People who are self-compassionate reach out to others when they are feeling down or are having a hard time.

‘Taking a moment to reflect and label one’s thoughts as “useful” or “not useful” before letting them go can be a way to beat self-criticism.’

On exercising, Mario adds: ‘There is ample evidence that physical activity boosts wellbeing. Now is a great time to enjoy the outdoors and perhaps explore ways to commute to work that involve cycling or walking.’

Focus on the positives

‘It can also help to focus on the benefits of going back to work,’ says Mario. ‘For example, the workplace can provide an opportunity to connect with other people. Being physically present may help others who have struggled with isolation during the pandemic.

‘One thing that the pandemic has taught us is the pleasure of simple things such as seeing friends or being outside and enjoying nature. Perhaps the pandemic has also given us new perspectives on work that will ultimately benefit our work/life balance.’

If you feel you need more support, ask your GP or another health professional for support. There are also some charities that can offer help and advice including Mind and Samaritans.

Will Murray, CEO at Oak Engage adds: ‘With the huge changes we’ve seen in the working climate as a result of the pandemic, it’s more crucial than ever to prioritise our mental health and wellbeing. As lockdown restrictions ease and the prospect of returning to the office becomes more of an issue, people need to start to think about their options.

‘Through our research, we wanted to highlight the importance of staying connected and the need for businesses to engage their people and empower them with the choice of whether they want to return to the office full-time or not.’

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