Returning to work anxiety? Working after quarantine, working from home, and just getting back into a usual rhythm again especially for us here in Australia is enough to give most of us the shivers. The thought of returning back to the office after so long away in the comfort of our own home, void of lots of people, tea at our disposal, and lack of office phones and chatter going constantly. Initially, we all hated the anti-social aspects of all of the dreaded lockdowns and restrictions making us work from home, however, studies are showing now that the return to work anxiety is a legitimate thing.
Returning to work stress
One of the main factors discussed in the recent paper was burnout on frontline workers, constant use of PPE, exhaustion from having to fill more shifts than they usually would be required to do, and constant fear of exposure.  However, one of the other implications when it came to the situation of 2020 and leading into 2021 as we know it, was the need for workers to work from home. We all readily had to adapt to isolation, zoom calls, emails instead of meetings and problem solving on our own.
The upside was that we got to work in our pyjamas, make as much tea/coffee as we wanted and or only wear a suit up top and nothing but our underwear below, you know the old business up top, party down below type thing. However, even with all of the perks, I don’t think any of us thought it would last as long as it has, or to have the ups and downs of going in and out of lockdown as many times as we have. So, with that being said, let’s have a look at some ways to establish some rhythm and get you transitioning back into the office a little more smoothly with a few tips…
Gradually add some more phone calls each day with your colleagues
If you have been home on your own working and only having the occasional serious zoom call, staff interaction all at once back in the office can seem a little daunting. If you are scheduled to return to work at a set date, try to incorporate an extra call or two a day with your colleagues to have a quick 5-minute chat and ask some quick questions like you usually would. This extra social exposure can help break the ice some more after such a long time away from everyone.
Go for a drive
Going from no morning commute traffic for so long, to sitting in bumper to bumper traffic is enough to get anyone worked up in a fluster. That constant braking, getting to work late because of an accident is something we haven’t had to experience for so long.
Try to experiment with leaving for work at the time you would and only go a little of the distance to work with a reward at the end, so drive that direction for a little while knowing you will get a coffee at the end or a walk in the sunshine to help break that anxiousness down a little bit. By the time you are getting to work the full distance, that traffic and timeframe will feel a little less daunting.
Keep your quiet time where you can
On your lunch break, take a moment to step outside and have some quiet time if you can, or move into a quiet space of the office and take a breather, maybe even listen to some meditation if you have been using that at home to help break away from the home/office blend. Your mind matters, and you should always be making it a priority. Discuss with your team some ways that mental health support can be a heavier focal point in the office environment now, after all being away for so long, even the boss will benefit from this.
Returning to work? Take your tea with you!
It may seem silly to some, but often anchoring of environments that we feel comfortable in, can help us settle in unfamiliar environments too. Tea/coffee is a comfort item we reached for a lot while working from home, holding the warm mug in our hands while we track from the kitchen to our makeshift offices. The 5-minute tea breaks you take to step away from staring at a screen for so long aren’t a bad thing.
So, if you found a delicious tea or coffee type during the lockdown, perhaps you supported a small business start-up that was making some locally and you loved the blends, keep that as consistency for your go-to tea to help blend that home and office transition a little more as you settle in.
Handwashing helps always!
We have all become hypersensitive to reading peoples illness signs, a cough in the office could be enough to send any of us into a state of concern nowadays from all of the media coverage and news constantly bellowing in our eyes and ears. If you feel anxious that too many people in one space is too much, it’s not your fault, it’s been a very trying time for everyone with a lot of isolation from one another.
To support your immune system in an office environment, step outside to get some sunshine when you can, vitamin D is incredibly important for our overall health and immune system.  With that, drink plenty of water, not only is it good for your body, it will also encourage you to visit the bathroom more, which means that your handwashing will also increase too. Pack your lunches with plenty of green veggies and fresh fruit, vitamin C is packed in the masses in green veg, zinc is also available in fresh fruit and veg too, both micronutrients being so important for immune health. 
Returning to work – everyone is in this together…
To wrap up, a term we have all heard this entire time so far… we are in this together. Truth be told, we are and always have been. We are humans, we likely all feel anxious returning to work, the office environment after so long away from it, that’s normal. So, to help support one another, do one for the team and broach the topic with the team or management to help build some strategies together that will help.
I guarantee you, any good boss would love to know how to get their team working optimally again in the office/work environment.
Team leaders, it may be good to sit at a round table setting and get the team working together on some suggestions to support the transition that you can all agree on together.
- Giorgi, G., Lecca, L. I., Alessio, F., Finstad, G. L., Bondanini, G., Lulli, L. G., Arcangeli, G., & Mucci, N. (2020). COVID-19-Related Mental Health Effects in the Workplace: A Narrative Review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(21), 7857. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17217857
- Martens, P. J., Gysemans, C., Verstuyf, A., & Mathieu, A. C. (2020). Vitamin D’s Effect on Immune Function. Nutrients, 12(5), 1248. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12051248
- Carr, A. C., & Maggini, S. (2017). Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients, 9(11), 1211. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9111211
- Prasad A. S. (2008). Zinc in human health: effect of zinc on immune cells. Molecular medicine (Cambridge, Mass.), 14(5-6), 353–357. https://doi.org/10.2119/2008-00033.Prasad
- Prasad AS, Bao B, Beck FW, Sarkar FH. Zinc enhances the expression of interleukin-2 and interleukin-2 receptors in HUT-78 cells by way of NF-kappaB activation. J Lab Clin Med. 2002 Oct;140(4):272-89. doi: 10.1067/mlc.2002.127908. PMID: 12389026.