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Returning to the office: how to handle anxiety

Medical Director (UK) Health Clinics, Bupa
15 July 2020

This article was written in line with the best available evidence and guidelines at the time of publishing. Keep up-to-date with the latest guidelines on coronavirus at gov.uk.

As many of us prepare to head back into the office, research from Bupa Health Clinics has found that around 65% of people are anxious about returning to work. Over the last few months, many of us have got used to spending more time at home and only seeing a small circle of people. Going back into the workplace can feel like a big change. Here I’ll share some of the ways you can manage any back-to-work anxiety.


Talking about your concerns

If you’re feeling stressed about returning to work, it might be helpful to talk to your manager. They’ll be able to tell you what your organisation is doing to protect you from coronavirus. This might include:

  • providing hand sanitiser and soap
  • more regular cleaning of your workspace
  • moving desks and workstations two metres apart, or putting up screens
  • staggering start times, finish times and when you take your breaks to minimise contact with other people

Reading the policies your workplace has created, as well as the government guidelines, will give you a clearer understanding of what to expect.

More than a third of people are worried about their commute. So if you have to use public transport, speak to your manager about whether you could change your hours to avoid the busiest times.

If you’re still concerned, ask if there’s any additional support available for both your physical and mental health. Some companies and unions have support lines you can contact if you want to speak to somebody outside of your team.

Talking to your colleagues might also help – many of them are probably feeling unsure about returning to work as well.

Looking after yourself

When you’re feeling stressed, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself. But making time for your own wellbeing can help to reduce your anxious feelings. Try to set aside some time each day for activities that can help you unwind. These might include:

  • practising mindfulness and breathing techniques (there are apps that can help you)
  • doing something you find relaxing like reading or taking a bath
  • spending time with loved ones, if you can do so safely

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to complete lots of work as soon as you return. Take some time to adjust to being back in the workplace if you can. You might find going back to work very tiring. If you’re worried about the amount of work you have to do when you return, making a plan might help you to organise your time.

Healthy habits

Many people’s daily routine has changed during the lockdown. If your sleeping pattern has changed or you’re eating differently, try to establish regular mealtimes and bedtimes before going back to work.

Including healthy behaviours into your daily routine can also help you to feel better, both physically and mentally. These include:


Things to look forward to

While it might seem daunting to go back into work, there might also be things that you can look forward to.

  • A chance to see colleagues and be more sociable during the working day.
  • Working in a dedicated space with the correct equipment.
  • Being free from the distractions of being at home.
  • Having a clearer boundary between your work and personal time.

If you feel your anxiety is becoming a problem, ask your GP or another health professional for support. There are also some charities that can offer help and advice:

Arun Thiyagarajan
Medical Director (UK) Health Clinics, Bupa

    • Health anxiety survey. OnePoll on behalf of Bupa Health Clinics, 2 July 2020
    • Talking with your workers about preventing coronavirus. Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk, accessed 6 July 2020
    • Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19). Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. www.gov.uk, updated 24 June 2020
    • Staying safe outside your home. www.gov.uk, updated 24 June 2020
    • How the UK is sleeping under lockdown. KCL and The Policy Institute. www.kcl.ac.uk, accessed 2 Jul 2020
    • Life under lockdown: coronavirus in the UK - 3. Behaviours: how we’re acting in the crisis, KCL and The Policy Institute. www.kcl.ac.uk, accessed 2 July 2020

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