Managing return-to-office anxiety

Managing return-to-office anxiety


For thousands of Australians, the idea of returning to the workplace is filled with fear and uncertainty – but thankfully there are ways around the worry.

After more than 12 months of work from home, employees across the country are slowly but surely returning to their offices and places of work. While some are embracing a hybrid approach and only returning a few days a week, the act of going back is still anxiety-inducing none the less. From sharing space with others to adjusting to long days of face-to-face meetings, commuting stress and health concerns – heading back into work isn’t as simple as it once was. Here’s how to embrace your fears and make the process as seamless as possible.

Normalise your fear

First-up, it has to be stated for the record that return-to-office anxiety is totally normal. It’s also inevitable for many of us, as the virus and all of its life-changing consequences are still a very real threat. Try not to be too hard on yourself for having a valid fear and avoid dwelling on anxious thoughts about all the things you haven’t done in the last 12 months that might be making you nervous (commuting, socialising, being in busy indoor environments). Remind yourself it’s OK to feel overwhelmed, and that you’re not alone. Everyone’s feeling the same to some degree at the moment.

Acknowledge what you may be losing

For many heading back into the office (especially those who loved WFH or who were exhausted by the pre-pandemic rat race), part of their fears and worries might also be linked to having to farewell all that was gained during quarantine. Sure, the pandemic has been hard but there has also been joy in slowing down and being in control of our own time. From less commuting, to more flexibility, increased time with family members or having more energy to look after ourselves – there are a number of new lifestyle elements that may fall by the wayside when heading back into the office. Try to spend some time acknowledging what you may lose so it doesn’t come as a big shock, but also try to focus on all that you will be gaining.

Try not to catastrophise

Just because you might be having a few extreme thoughts doesn’t mean they’re real and that they’re going to eventuate. If you’re trying to do your best to ensure these big thoughts and feelings don’t take over, why not try a reframing technique? This is where you take a close look at the fears you’re having and distinguish which fears are exaggerated and which are rooted in reality. If you can learn to separate your anxiety this way, you can start to hose yourself down by challenging your own thought processes. Anxiety can often feel like an all-or-nothing emotion, but don’t forget – you’re in charge of your thoughts and if you can break them down before they take off like a horse at a starting gate – you’ll be in good stead.

Be kind to yourself

Where possible, focus on good thoughts and ease your way into returning to the office slowly. We’ve spent an entire year crafting new routines based around not being indoors and staying away from people, so we have to transition back slowly. Maybe start by going back to the office one day a week and then upping this to two days once you start feeling more comfortable? If you haven’t taken a train or bus since before lockdown and your morning commute requires you to engage with public transport again, try to do a few rides in advance. It’s a small step but one that will help in the long run. If you start feeling overwhelmed or experience increased negative thoughts, it might be time to speak to someone about the anxiety you’re having. It’s important to make your return to the office work for you, and if your employer values having an engaged, happy and confident employee, it will work for them, too.

Stay informed

It’s fact over fiction when it comes to conquering fear! By keeping up to date with the latest COVID-19 information, as well as initiatives like the COVID-safe plan at your place of business, you’ll feel much more prepared when going back to work. What kind of precautions is your office taking? If you have all the right information at your disposal, you’ll be less likely to see your fears and concerns escalate. Oftentimes it’s the anticipation of a perceived problem that can cause us stress, so if you pro-actively work at reducing these unknowns, you’ll be golden. If you’re still nervous, why not chat to your HR advisor at work to learn more about their health and safety measures? It’s OK to ask questions and to want the full picture.

Self Care 101

It might go without saying but in times of stress and change, it’s important to keep ourselves as happy and healthy as possible. How do we do this? We treat our bodies right by eating well, getting lots of fresh air and exercise, a good nights’ sleep and meaningful conversations with those we love the most. If you’re able to focus on your self-care routine during your transition back to the office, you’ll be better equipped to deal with any unforeseen stresses.

If you’ve employed all the best strategies to reduce your fears about returning to work and you still need a few more techniques to kick yourself into gear, just remember this: you’ve done it before, and you can do it again! Yes, our homes have been our sanctuaries for the last year, but the world keeps turning and while it may feel uncomfortable at first – you’re perfectly capable of returning to the office, engaging with your co-workers and establishing beneficial routines in a (somewhat) new environment.

You’ve got this!

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