How to Manage Return-to-Work Anxiety after the Pandemic

Feeling anxious about returning to work as the pandemic winds down? You’re definitely not alone. Researchers shared results from an international survey about returning to in-person workspaces. 4,553 people from five countries completed the survey in January of 2021. 

Every single one indicated feeling at least some anxiety returning to their workplace. 

Return-to-work Anxiety is clearly on people’s minds as they navigate the remainder of the pandemic. In many parts of the world, conditions have been improving. But variants are adding more uncertainty as we move into the fall and winter months. Return-to-work anxiety may still be part of the picture for a while. Here we’ll take a closer look at workplace expectations, differing attitudes about returning to work, and tips for coping with anxiety as you adjust.  

Going Back to Work in Europe and the United States

The return to in-person work will soon become a reality for people who’ve been remote for months. Some companies have already made the transition. And in the UK, returning to the office could be mandatory in some places by September 2021. Hybrid plans with remote and in-person arrangements may also be a common choice. No matter what the plan looks like, some employees may worry about this change long before it happens. 

Attitudes and Habits from the Pandemic 

After over a year of working remotely, it’s become the new normal for some workers. People have adjusted their lives to this type of work arrangement, and many want to keep things the way they are. But some businesses with work-from-home plans are about to shake things up. 

In early June of 2021, Apple announced that employees would be required to come into the office three days a week starting in the fall. Apple CEO Tim Cook stated that many people were looking forward to this change and seeing their colleagues in person again. But according to an open letter written by 80 staff members, this messaging doesn’t match how many employees really feel. 

Many Apple employees believe their concerns about returning to the office have been dismissed and ignored. Apple isn’t the only business grappling with this issue. As companies move forward through the pandemic, leaders and employees will need to keep talking about conflicting viewpoints. Going back to the way things were may not be so easy now.

Return to Work Anxiety - Vicious Cycle

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Back to the Office, or Working from Home?

Many people working from home have appreciated the flexibility and a shorter commute. For years, working from home was uncommon and limited to a few industries. But with the pandemic, businesses around the world have been forced to use remote work arrangements. The business world has begun to legitimize work-from-home options where it suits the job. 

Here’s a closer look at both work styles and who may prefer each one.

Back to the office

People who prefer in-person work may enjoy and need more social interaction. Working near others allows for casual in-the-moment conversations and collaboration. Being in the office can also help a person separate home life from work life. 

Working from home

Someone who prefers remote work may have a greater need or appreciation for a flexible schedule. People caring for relatives or who normally have long commutes may significantly benefit from remote work. For some, social interactions at work are distracting and stressful. These individuals may work better in isolation with less concern about coping with anxiety in public.

Here you can read more about how to get through Remote Working.

Infographic - Return to Work Anxiety

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Going Back to the Office – Tips for Coping With Return-to-work Anxiety 

So many people are feeling awkward and unsure about gathering with people. It may seem like everyone else is handling it better than you, but you aren’t alone. Feeling anxious is a reasonable reaction when facing major change and uncertainty. Here are some tips for handling Return-to-work anxiety as you transition back to in-person work.

Make a gradual transition back to the office

Ask your company if you could start with a hybrid of in-person and at-home work. Gradual adjustment is often more manageable than jumping in at once. If you feel some anxiety, you may feel comforted knowing that your in-person time is limited. And as you get used to your office environment again, you can gauge your readiness to take it full-time.

Be proactive about staying calm

Think of your Return-to-work anxiety coping skills as a prevention plan instead of a reaction plan. Yes, you’ll want to have a few go-to methods for calming yourself if you can sense your anxiety growing. But there’s tremendous value in addressing anxiety before it even starts. Doing regular calming and mood-boosting activities throughout your day can help you stay on an even keel. 

Plan ahead for several short mental wellness breaks in your day. You’ll stay energized and prevent mental fatigue, making it easier to stay calm and handle any rising anxiety. Try these ideas and brainstorm your own.

  • Take a quick walk.
  • Stretch your body.
  • Breath deeply.
  • Do something to make you laugh.
  • Talk or text with a friend, coworker, or loved one.

Be prepared for discomfort as you adjust

Anticipating anxiety can be almost as uncomfortable as feeling it. Unfortunately, you may not be able to avoid feeling stressed or awkward at times. This isn’t a sign of failure, only a reflection of your human emotions. If or when anxious feelings arise, be compassionate toward yourself. Try some suggestions listed in the previous point to relax again.

Get your feelings off your chest

Find ways to express or share your feelings as they come up. It’s tempting to push your discomfort aside. But you may feel more relief by dealing with them quickly. Keep someone you trust in the loop as you go through your transition. 

You may also be interested in our post about how to manage social anxiety after the COVID pandemic in 2021

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Facing anxiety as you return to work

If your job is transitioning staff members back into the office, you may not feel ready. It’s OK to feel some Return-to-work anxiety as your workplace adjusts to the pandemic. Even if you and your coworkers like being around each other, take your time getting back into your routine. Support each other as you figure out what normal means to you. 

If you are looking for Work Stress Counselling or Anxiety Therapy here in Therapy Central we can help you Contact us for a free 15 min consultation

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Dr Raffaello Antonino, Clinical Director at Therapy Central

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