Five ways to effectively manage back-to-work anxiety

Four strategies for developing a return to the office plan

As we begin to return to the office, the fear and risk of contracting the virus grows. Travelling by public transport and the risk of being infected by asymptomatic colleagues can cause anxiety in some, despite social distancing measures and government-mandated measures.

We asked Dr. Sheba Singh, a senior psychologist, on how to effectively manage back-to-work anxiety. 

1. Embrace uncertainty

This ‘new normal’ will eventually become simply ‘normal’. Just like a new employee takes time to feel comfortable in their new job, we all will settle down with the new surroundings, the new norms of the office, and the new ways of working with colleagues. Let yourself experience the discomfort of uncertainty. Focus on the present and your breathing. Continue with your normal ways of doing things and focus on your tasks. Eventually, our brains will learn that uncertainty cannot hurt us, and we will feel less anxious. Take some long, deep breaths or try meditation to keep you anchored in the present.

2. Be positive

We need to acknowledge that there will be changes in the workplace for us to cope with the new norm when we return to the office. When we return, we must follow social distancing measures, such as not being able to have lunch with colleagues and no chatting at the pantry or in the kitchen area. As we go through these changes, look at the positive side of things. These measures are designed to keep us safe and will help reduce the spread of the virus. 

3. Take the necessary precautions

We can manage our anxiety by taking precautionary measures. Maintain hand hygiene by washing your hands with soap and water for 20-30 seconds, or using an alcohol-based sanitizer for 10-20 seconds. Maintain your respiratory hygiene by wearing a mask and sneezing into your sleeve. And maintaining at least a six-foot distance from other people regularly can reduce the risk of transmitting the virus. When we feel like we are in control, our anxiety reduces. 

4. Check the facts

Think rationally. Anxious thoughts will not help. Follow an authentic or government website or news channel for the latest updates about the world and the virus. Spending half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening is enough to keep yourself updated. Don’t get overwhelmed, just stay informed.

5. Take steps to reduce your overall anxiety level

  • Exercise – this is a natural and effective treatment to reduce stress and anxiety. 
  • Make time for relaxation. Try meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.
  • Get 6-8 hours of sleep. Sleep gives your body and brain the time it needs to heal. Establishing and committing to a healthy sleep schedule can help.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Eating healthy meals can help maintain your energy levels and prevent mood swings.
  • Keep yourself socially connected. Speak with family, friends, and colleagues. We are social beings and having someone to share your thoughts with can really help.
  • Set and follow a specific routine every day. Include productivity, leisure, exercise, and rest in your daily routine.

Just as we were getting used to working from home, the time has come for us to slowly go back to the office. It’s another ‘new normal’ that we have to get used to, and one that can cause back-to-work anxiety. This could be presented in various psychological and physiological signs and symptoms, including chest discomfort, difficulty breathing, dizziness, frequent or urgent micturition, muscle tension, palpitations, sleep disturbances, fearful anticipation, irritability, restlessness, poor concentration, and worry.

While we may not wish to admit it, anxiety is normal as we return to the office amidst the uncertainties. If you feel that your level of anxiety becomes too high and that it results in distress and affects your ability to function in your daily responsibilities, don't hesitate to seek professional help. 

Find out about what global organisations are doing to future proof their workforce. Download our New World of Work: a guide for business leaders whitepaper.