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Returning to the workplace after lockdown: how to handle anxiety

Specialist Nurse Adviser at Bupa UK
20 April 2021

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.

Restrictions are starting to ease across the UK. As such, more businesses are opening up. Many people will be returning to workplaces over the coming months. If you’ve been working from home, going back to the workplace can feel like a big change. Here I’ll share some of the ways you can manage any back-to-work anxiety.


Returning to work

Returning to the workplace after a long period of time can make you feel anxious for a whole host of reasons. You may feel:

  • worried about the risk of COVID-19 (coronavirus)
  • uneasy about mixing with lots of people
  • uncertain about changes in your workplace
  • nervous about doing your job again

Remind yourself of the positives of returning to work. This might include:

  • being able to see colleagues again
  • separating your home and work life
  • getting back into a routine that you’ve missed

Talk to your line manager about any specific concerns you have and how they can support you. It could be that there are opportunities to change aspects of your job that you’re not happy with for the better. Or you may be able to book in some training to brush up on certain skills. The most important thing is to be kind to yourself and take things slowly. It’s unrealistic to expect things to feel ‘normal’ on day one.

Changes to your workplace

Find out about any changes being put in place to make your workplace COVID-secure ahead of your return to work. These might include:

  • extra handwashing facilities
  • use of screens and barriers and other measures to reduce contact between people

Knowing about these measures will give you a clearer understanding of what to expect. They will hopefully ease any fears you might have. Talk anything through with your manager if you need to. Now is also the time to ask if you want to make any changes to your own working hours or practices. For instance, working flexible hours to avoid the busiest times on public transport, or working from home more if you’re able to do so.

Looking after yourself

Making time to look after your own wellbeing can really help ease feelings of anxiety. Try to set aside some time each day for activities that can help you unwind and relax. These might include:

  • practising mindfulness and breathing techniques (there are apps that can help you)
  • doing something you find relaxing like reading, listening to music or taking a bath
  • doing some gentle exercise, such as going for a walk, or trying a yoga or Pilates session

Many of us have slipped into bad habits during lockdown. This might include being less active, drinking more alcohol or having a poor sleep routine. Getting back into a good daily routine before returning to work can also help you to feel better, both physically and mentally. This includes:


Seeking help for anxiety

If you feel you need more support, find out about any mental health services your organisation may offer, such as employee assistance programmes or support lines.

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:

Fatmata Kamara
Specialist Nurse Adviser at Bupa UK

    • Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19). Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. www.gov.uk, updated 15 April 2021
    • Relaxation. Mind. www.mind.org.uk, October 2017
    • Stockwell S, Trott M, Tully M, et al. Changes in physical activity and sedentary behaviours from before to during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown: a systematic review. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine 2021; 7: e000960. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2020-000960
    • Covid-19 public health road map: sleep hygiene. The British Psychological Society. www.bps.org.uk, October 2020
    • Naughton F, Ward E, Khondoker M, et al. Health behaviour change during the UK COVID-19 lockdown: Findings from the first wave of the C-19 health behaviour and well-being daily tracker study. Br J Health Psychol 2021 Published online: 6 January 2021. doi:10.1111/bjhp.12500

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