Boris Johnson has recently advised that “people should return to work if they can.” With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that after dealing with a pandemic that has posed one of the biggest threats to public health that we have seen in a generation, returning to the office may instil a sense of fear and dread in many of us.
This fear is multi-faceted and is exacerbated by the need to take into account various issues, including commuting, the fear of being able to ‘socially distance’, and worrying if colleagues are going to respect those guidelines.
Other fears can involve concerns about returning to a toxic work environment after months of isolation, and adapting again to past routines, while being mindful of new enforced social measures. The still very real concern around catching Coronavirus and indeed transmitting it to others is now further fuelled by the recent suggestion that there may soon be a ‘second wave.’
So what can we do to alleviate some of this anxiety about returning to work, post-lockdown?
As featured in the Daily Mail, Liz Ritchie, a psychotherapist at St Andrew's shares some of her tips:
Firstly and most importantly, it is ok and very natural to be anxious at this time. We are experiencing something which is unknown and our biggest fear is always the fear of the unknown. It is completely reasonable to feel overwhelmed, and going from lockdown back into a ‘new normal’ is quite a readjustment. So validate your concerns and be very clear on what you need to know and do in order to stay.
Have a return to work check-in to establish your company’s plans regarding keeping employees safe. Minimising staff members’ potential exposure to COVID-19 must be every employers top priority. It is important to share your thoughts and feelings with your line manager and you colleagues – they will almost certainly have the same concerns. Companies will welcome your feedback and proposals during this time, so be clear on what your needs are and put boundaries in place where you need to. This is an effective way of helping you feel more in control and reduce anxiety.
Have realistic expectations of yourself. You may experience a variety of emotions after returning to work, which is normal. Talking about your feelings with someone you trust is a healthy way to process changing situations and dynamics.
The importance of self-care. Do not abandon your self-care routines. This still should be a constant and stable part of our ‘new normal’, and looking after yourself will help you get back into the swing of things. It is more important than ever to prioritise self-care, so continue the things that put you in a good headspace. With having had more free time, many of us have picked up new hobbies or reignited old passions, like painting, reading, cooking, meditating or baking sourdough. Don’t let these passions go! It’s more important than ever to prioritise self-care, so continue to prioritise the things that put you in a good headspace.
Plan ahead! Anticipate common scenarios like ‘how or what am I going to eat and drink?’. Be prepared and bring your own food and cutlery. What is my work space now going to look like? Take note of shared touch points. Hand sanitisers are our new best friends! Be sure to follow the recommended safety precautions of washing hands frequently, and wearing a face covering where required to do so.
Stay in the moment. Try not to cause yourself unnecessary stress by catastrophising. Be aware of negative thinking (the worst case scenario) and make an effort to flip the negative thoughts to a more realistic mind-set.
Know what to expect of yourself and have self-compassion. You may experience a variety of emotions after returning to work, which is normal. Talking about your feelings with someone you trust is of utmost importance. Be kind to yourself. Don’t judge yourself. Acknowledge your strengths and accept your weaknesses during possibly the most challenging period that we will experience in our lifetime.