Around the world, the coronavirus (COVID-19) saw us in enforced ‘lockdown’ to prevent the virus from spreading. Now we’re seeing restrictions being lifted, returning to work will be a new challenge which will no doubt see a rise in anxiety among staff. So how can we stop or reduce the feelings of anxiety as we return to work? 
 
Lockdown anxiety 
During the UK’s lockdown between March and June 2020, global research and studies from Ipsos MORI showed just how COVID-19 was affecting people around the world. When asked on whether they were suffering from any specific condition, 28% of Britons said they were impacted by anxiety, compared to just 7% of Germans.[1] 
It’s also worth noting that anxiety seemed to affect female respondents (34%) more than male respondents (21%), though it’s not clear why this should be. But in the same survey, insomnia and depression also ranked among the mental health issues most impacting Britons during the lockdown, at 16% each. 
 
Post-lockdown anxiety 
Now global lockdown restrictions are being lifted, there’s still apprehension about how comfortable we feel about getting back to ‘normal’. Ipsos MORI reveals in a June 2020 poll that there are fears and concerns over going to bars or restaurants (60%), attending larger public gatherings (65%), or visiting cinemas or theatres (59%) when we’re able to. 
 
In the same poll, it states only just over half (52%) of Britons are feeling comfortable about returning to work.[2] There’s no detail specifying exact reasons why people feel this way, but it’s safe to assume there is a certain level of anxiety felt among workers at the moment. 
 
Other research carried out by Opinium Research for Bupa in May 2020 indicated that “52% of respondents feel anxious about using public transport and being around lots of people (44%)”.[3] A significant worry, but feelings about reintegration into a changed working environment and the ‘new normal’ are also playing their part. 
 
Return to work anxiety 
It’s unlikely you’ll be alone if you have feelings of anxiety about returning to work after the lockdown. COVID-19 has put us all in a situation no one has experienced before. And though restrictions are lifting, the talk of a second wave and localised outbreaks only feed the anxieties we already have. So what can you do to overcome your own anxiety and what can your employer do to help you? 
 
In a recent blog, we talked about how to stop anxiety taking over. Breathing is the key factor for anyone trying to manage their anxiety and overcome any stressful situation. Slowing your mind and body down, deep breathing can calm any anxious feelings you’re experiencing. As well as this, exercise, a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and a good night’s sleep can all help manage anxiety. 
 
But when it comes to returning to work, anxiety levels might be higher. You may have been a furloughed employee or working from home, but stepping out and returning to the workplace might be daunting. Before you make your way back, speak directly with line manager or HR department about your concerns. 
 
All workplaces should have revised policies and procedures to help staff and give them any additional support they need when they return. Ask them about specific details you’re worried about and what’s being done to achieve the standards of safety that are required. If you’re not 100% happy or are still anxious about what a return to work could mean for you, then you should still have the option to continue working from home (if you’re not being furloughed) for as long as you need or want to. 
 
Travelling to work 
As some of the research we’ve mentioned pointed out, “52% of respondents feel anxious about using public transport and being around lots of people”. So how can you manage your travel anxiety? Even though social distancing measures are in place across public transport, you may still feel anxious about others around you. 
 
If you can, try alternative methods to get to work. Travelling in your own car or even taking a cab if you can afford it, would help maintain the feeling of social distancing. But with more provisions given to cyclists, perhaps you can start riding to work – exercise is good for anxiety as well as being a green option. If you have no choice but to use public transport, remember the following: 
 
- Wear a face mask (many buses won’t allow passengers on without wearing one) 
- Keep socially distant by at least 1m as much as possible 
- Avoid touching your face 
- Use hand sanitiser whenever possible and wash your hands at every opportunity. 
- Remember to breathe deeply and slowly 
 
Being at work 
Once you’re at work, there should be safety measures in place ready for you. These can include access to hand sanitiser, one-way systems around offices and work areas, social distancing markings on floors, and thorough desk and office cleaning at the start and end of each day. 
 
Staff numbers may also be limited on your return, so having fewer people around should make you feel more comfortable. If you do feel anxious at any time, your breathing exercises can be a great leveller. But while keeping your distance, remember to engage and interact with your work colleagues as much as you can. 
 
Anxiety can affect many people, but they may experience it in different ways and at different levels, but you won’t be alone – others will almost certainly be feeling the same way as you. And although being back at work and around people again might take some getting used to, having some kind of normality back in your life will be a positive thing for you. 
 
Overcoming anxiety 
Going through anxiety can be difficult to cope with, but there are methods to help you overcome or manage it. Our 1-day Overcoming and Understanding Anxiety course will help you better understand anxiety and how it affects you and the people around you. 
 
Delivered by our fully qualified mental health training professionals, the course looks at key anxiety areas including symptoms, triggers, and relaxation techniques. Limited to a maximum group size of 15 people, the course will also help you give support to others with anxiety issues too. 
 
For more information and to book your course, call us today on 07831 119941 or email us at info@clearfocustraining.co.uk
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