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Workplace anxiety: How to cope with returning to the office (again)

With the news of offices officially reopening, many of us might be experiencing what some experts have termed workplace anxiety. Indeed, after this recent bout of working from home, returning to work may be something of a concern, whether it’s the ongoing threat of Covid or just a reaction to change, with most of us having well and truly relaxed into life in tracksuits. You might be concerned about losing the flexibility and freedom you have enjoyed, and even those home comforts like not sharing the loo with a steady stream of people. The good news is that you’re not alone. Even better: there are ways to help. Here, leading mental health experts share their coping strategies.

Hedda Bird, human motivation and engagement expert and author of

Choose to enjoy it

Play against the trend of “I’d rather be in my bedroom” and set out to enjoy it. Don your favourite shirt, treat yourself to a new haircut, and book lunch with a colleague who makes you laugh.

Focus on creativity and collaboration

Relegate dull project meetings to video calls, and use your office time to explore new ideas with colleagues. Buff up your collaboration skills in workshops with actual people; cover the wall space in crazy ideas to kickstart some fresh thinking. Business leaders have been telling us they want more innovation – let’s give it to them.

Best foot forward

We all do best when we play to our strengths, so aim to put more of your time into what you do well. Re-organise your work, delegate more, swap tasks – your colleagues may love the things you hate. You’ll be happier, more productive and less stressed – what’s not to love?

Richard Reid, psychotherapist and CEO of

Ask questions and share your concerns

If there are elements of the return to work that you are confused about or aspects that seem to be vague or impractical, ask for details. Worst case scenario, these conversations help to remove the fear of the unknown which can often be a great cause of stress in itself.

Plan how to integrate at your own pace

If it is possible to ease back into the office, that can help to manage the anxiety that might accompany a sudden environmental shift. Identify which parts of the return to work feel most challenging and, if necessary, articulate that clearly so that you can make a compelling case for a gradual rather than abrupt return.

Practice old routines ahead of time

It can be tough to get back into old daily routines after so long working from home. Feeling organised and more in control of everyday activities often helps to alleviate some of the stress associated with the unknown or unfamiliar. It can be worth rehearsing routines ahead of the return to the office, such as setting the morning alarm or practising the journey to work. As a result, you are not doing everything all at once on the first day.

Dr Joan van den Brink, executive coach, management consultant and author of

Listen to yourself

Tune into yourself to understand moment to moment what you are feeling and why. Notice what sensations you are feeling in your body. Do you feel tense? What triggers this sensation? Find ways to relax, such as taking a few deep breaths, and remembering times when you have felt at your best. What were you doing? What helped you to be at your best? As you go through your day, check in with yourself to see how you are feeling and why.

Be assertive regarding your requirements

For example, you may be concerned that encountering your work colleagues increases the likelihood of you contracting Covid. It is important to acknowledge this fear and not beat yourself up for feeling that way, particularly if other people seem more relaxed about this. Adopt behaviours that increase your feeling of safety, even if others are not doing so. Remind yourself that this is your right. Be assertive if others violate your boundaries of safety. You could also discuss your fears with your line manager to determine strategies that could be adopted by the whole team.

Incorporate home comforts

Reflect on the aspects of working from home that you enjoyed and those that were less beneficial. Find ways to incorporate the positives and minimise the negative aspects of working from home as you return to the workplace. You may have enjoyed the flexibility of structuring your day to take time out to exercise, have dinner with your family, read, do chores, and so on. Determine how you could build some of this into the workplace. For example, plan your agenda to give yourself blocks of focused time when you will not be disturbed and insert breaks that allow you to do non-work activities. Use commuting time to shift mentally as well as physically from one environment to the other.

George Karseras, psychologist, team expert and author of new book

Focus on your relationships

Since our first lockdown, there’s been a wave of enthusiasm behind the building of psychologically “safe” relationships in the workplace, a place where we can speak up without fear of reprisal. Ride this wave by telling those you have missed that you have missed them.

Manage your energies carefully

Commuting can be physically tiring and catching up and interacting with people can deplete as well as boost energy levels when we are not used to it either. So ensure you keep your physical energy reserves high by getting enough sleep, eating well and drinking plenty of water. Retain emotional energy by not cramming your diary with meetings, but booking time out to be by yourself, to plan, organise and recharge your batteries.

Set goals

Set some new goals to give a sense of freshness to what might feel like taking a step backwards into the past. You might include how you will make the most out of your time commuting, new relationships you would like to forge, new skills you’d like to develop, new experiences you’d like to have or how you will retain the work-life balance you’ve grown used to. Write down your chosen goals and a few ideas on how you will achieve them. Share your goals with someone you would like to work more closely with and ask them for their advice and counsel. Asking for help is a great way to build trusting relationships.

Nic Marks, happiness expert and statistician, CEO of Friday Pulse™, and creator of the

Rebuild your core relationships

Our core relationships are what keep us going, and it’s no different in the workplace. Think about your relationships as “bonding, bridging and linking”. Bonding is the tie that connects teammates together. Bridging connects people from different teams. Linking is the connection you have with leaders, division heads, etc. We need strong social ties in each of these categories to succeed at work.

Achieve the right balance

Some people may be stressed about going back to the office, while others are anxious to return. Everyone has a different comfort level, so be compassionate both with yourself and with others. Be honest with yourself, too – if you need to take more time before going back, work from home for a few days a week before making the full transition.

Reflect on what you’ve lost (and gained)

It’s been a long pandemic, and we’ve gained some new habits along the way. Take the time to reflect on the things you’ve lost and would like to get back, and the things that you’ve gained and would like to continue. We can’t pretend that we can go back to what things used to be, but we can make the best of it for a better experience of work.

This article was originally published on Vogue UK.

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