Are You Feeling Anxious About Having To Return To Work?

14 August, 2023

By Gin Lalli

Are you anxious about returning to work as we come out of lockdown? Feeling stressed, scared or even depressed?

I've been having conversations with both employees and employers recently about the anxiety and stress that is increasing as offices and places of work plan to re-open. On the one hand, we've all been waiting to return to some sense of normality, but after 10+ weeks of being in lockdown, many people are now finding that their stress levels are increasing at the thought of going back.

Remember when we panicked about going into lockdown? It was a huge fear of the unknown. But now we have adapted to the routine of quarantine and after seeing all the bad news and increasing number of deaths it is only natural to now wonder how we will cope when we come out of it.

It comes back to how the brain sees change as an error. The brain does not like change - even if we know rationally that we need to, it is still an uncomfortable experience for the mind. The error message is flagged up and your brain tries to keep you safe by going into the fight-or-flight-or-freeze mode. It's a natural survival response, your mind is literally you're minder, trying to look after you.

But you need to take back intelligent control and get rational about it.

Here are some things for employers AND employees to consider when dealing with the return to work anxiety.


What is it that is concerning you? Is it about how the office will manage social distancing? Or how much contact you'll need to have with clients? How about your travel to and from work, is that what concerns you?

The thing to do is communicate. You may find all your fears are allayed as your employer explains all the precautions they have taken to look after you. You're probably worrying about something that your employer has already taken care of. If not try and communicate your concerns and work together to come up with a solution that works for you. There may be something really simple that would help reduce your anxiety.

Be flexible:

Don't dismiss anything outright. Remember your brain just doesn't like the change. If the solutions in place don't work for you then readdress them. We're all going to be learning as we go along I'm afraid. Your employer will have great intentions in principle but if they do not work in practice you will need to be ready to adapt. Not always easy but it's a good thing that not everything is set in stone. You should find that your input is priceless as most social distancing rules can only be tested by practising them - so experiment with the experience.

Enjoy being back together:

We are, after all, social beings and we need to get back to seeing our colleagues and friends. Work is such an important part of life. Only through quarantine and isolation have we realised that work provides lots of interaction and activity that keeps us going, and is good for our mental health.

Be mindful of your colleagues:

Not everyone has enjoyed lockdown. Some people need to get back into the office. Maybe they've found it really difficult to work from home, combining homeschooling children with other household duties. I know of some people who did not have a suitable workstation at home, or other family difficulties that made it impossible to work from home, so for these people returning to work is somewhat a relief.

While you may feel some grievance at having to come back to work, this will be a godsend to a lot of people so you may need to be mindful of your language to respect others.

Nothing is ever as bad as it seems

One thing that fills up your stress bucket is negatively forecasting the future. You can spend a lot of time and energy worrying about things that 99% of the time never happen. Don't try and 'predict' how terrible it's all going to be. Try and focus on the solution going forward.

Nothing will be the same again so we need to learn to adapt. Change is the basic law of nature. According to Darwin's Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives, but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.

Applying this theory we will all be able to survive and even thrive coming out of this.

See you on the other side.

Gin Lalli

Gin Lalli is a Solution Focused Therapist specialising in anxiety, depression, stress and sleep. She is based in Edinburgh, Scotland

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