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Managing anxiety about returning to work after coronavirus lockdown

Dr Renju Joseph, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Woodbourne, has looked at ‘return to work anxiety’ and has put together advice and information for those who are experiencing anxiety about going back to work as certain restrictions start to ease following on from the coronavirus lockdown.

Be kind to yourself

It’s ok to feel uncertain and distressed. This is an incredibly challenging time for everyone.

Many of us have had to adjust to a new normal, which has involved spending the majority of time in our homes, and the idea of now going to back to work can provoke anxiety, as our brain is alerted to a new potential risk in front of us. So be kind to yourself and recognise that it is okay to feel like this.

Also, don’t try to go from 1 to 100 on your first day back at work. You need to get used to a new routine once again, which can take some time to bed in. Keep things simple at first, so that you don’t become overwhelmed. As humans, we can find change difficult, so you won’t be alone in dealing with anxiety about going back to work following on from lockdown.

Speak with your employer

When people worry, it is typically related to uncertainties or the unknown. Many people who are returning to work are worried about catching coronavirus when they do so, or spreading the virus amongst family and friends if they become infected at work.

At this moment in time, many employers are carrying out risk assessments and taking clear steps to make sure workspaces are safe. So speak with your manager or employer and get as much information as you can about how the workspace will be adapted and how people will move around within it.

Having all the appropriate information as well as answers to any questions you have can help to ease your worries about potential risks and dangers.

Maintain a good daily routine

At this time, when things appear to be constantly changing, try to maintain a good routine and positive structure to your day. Scheduling in moments of happiness, and embracing the good things in our lives, can be a great mental health boost as well as a welcome distraction from our anxieties.

So during the hours when you’re not in work, or in the run-up to you returning to work, spend time doing activities that you really enjoy, and make sure you do them regularly.

Learn positive coping tactics

When you start to feel incredibly anxious, you may find that your breath quickens, which causes your heart to beat faster, and leads to you feeling dizzy, disorientated and even more anxious than before. Learning a few breathing techniques, where you bring your attention to your breath during these moments, can help you to relax, focus and quieten your mind. Here is one breathing technique for you to try:

  • Breathe in for four seconds
  • Hold your breath for three seconds
  • Breathe out for six seconds

Make sure that your stomach expands as you take in each breath so that your breathing is deep rather than shallow.

You may also want to have a series of mantras or affirmations ready as another anxiety technique, as positive self-talk can help you to move past any negative and anxious thoughts you have about returning to work. When putting together these mantras, think about the negative things that you tell yourself, and make sure your mantras are the direct opposite to these. Some to think about including are:

  • I can do this
  • I am strong and can get through difficult times
  • It is okay to feel like this
  • This will not break me

This self-talk can help you to overcome your negative thoughts, and recognise your positives and strengths, all of which will help you as you return to work.

Seek professional treatment for anxiety if you feel it is needed

If your anxiety symptoms that you are experiencing continue to have a dramatic impact on your life, or seem to be worsening over time, it is important that you seek professional help & support. Some of us need an extra bit of help when it comes to managing our symptoms, and that is okay.

You may want to talk to your GP as they will be able to provide you with advice, and refer you for specialist treatment if appropriate. At Priory, we are also able to provide you with access to anxiety treatment at this time. Assessments and therapy are available through our online therapy service, and our residential treatment programmes are still available across our private healthcare hospitals, where our practices have been adapted so that we are able to continue safely providing mental health support. We have also resumed face-to-face therapy at some of our hospitals and wellbeing centres. 


Page medically reviewed by Dr Renju Joseph (MBBS, MD, LLM, MRCPsych), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Woodbourne

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