How to Deal with Anxiety About Going Back to Work? (Career Tips)

Deal with Anxiety About Going Back to Work

Are you feeling anxious about going back to work?

Taking time off work and doing things that we enjoy is important to our mental health.

But the thought of returning to work can often lead to stress and anxiety.

Why do you feel anxious about going back to work?

Workplace anxiety happens to everyone and it is normal. It is how our body and mind prepare ourselves for our future challenges. Anxiety is mainly cause by the abrupt change in the environment or the anticipation of the change.

Anxiety is an emotion to an outcome that is uncertain and unpredictable.

You might be going back to work after maternity leave, vacation or even a lockdown due to pandemic.

The anticipation of heavy workload, long working hours can be quite stressful.

And if you are not working from home, you’ll be having an extra burden of long daily commute which can build up the stress and anxiety of going back to work. 

If you are stressed out or feeling under pressure, it is important to take time to manage your anxiety.

Here are some advice and information for employees who are experiencing anxiety about going back to work.

How to deal with anxiety about going back to work?

If you find yourself struggling with stress and anxiety about returning to work after a long break, here are a few steps you can do to help you navigate this stressful time.

1. Manage anxiety by being prepared

Getting prepared is to be ready for the change when you return to work.

There are 2 main steps in getting prepared for going back to work.

  • Prepare yourself mentally.
  • Prepare yourself physically.

Getting mentally prepared.

  • Sleep early, so you can wake up feeling energized and refresh.
  • Adjust your habits where you will be going back to work.
  • Establish some work-from-home guidelines if you are doing remote work.

Plan ahead to gain a control of the uncertain future by getting physically prepared.

  • Setup an ergonomic home office if you are working from home.
  • Make a to-do-list on  things you’ll need to do before getting back to work.
  • Eat healthy and exercise regularly.
  • Revisit your wardrobe and plan what to wear when getting back to work.
  • Dusting off daily planner and preplan your days at work.
  • Look up some new recipes for your lunch at work.

Getting prepared is to be ready for the change when you return to work.

It is always great to get prepared early for the things you’ll need to bring or buy for work.

2. Get sufficient sleep

Insufficient sleep is one of the main reason for anxiety and stress. Getting enough sleep can help you in dealing with your anxiety better.

In fact, sleep deprivation can worsen anxiety, spurring a negative cycle involving insomnia and anxiety disorders.

National Sleep Foundation recommends the following for a good night sleep.

Sleep Chart By Age

Group Age Hours of Sleep Recommended
Newborn 0 – 3 Months 14 – 17 Hours
Infant 4 – 11 Months 12 – 15 Hours
Toddler 1 – 2 Years 11 – 14 Hours
Preschool 3 – 5 Years 10 – 13 Hours
School-age 6 – 13 Years 9 – 11 Hours
Teen 14 – 17 Years 8 – 10 Hours
Young Adult 18 – 25 Years 7 – 9 Hours
Adult 26 – 64 Years 7 – 9 Hours
Older Adult >65 Years 7 – 8 Hours

Following the recommended hours of sleep in this chart help you to ensure a healthy sleep duration.

If you sleep an hour more or less occasionally may not have much health impact, but not having enough sleep when you get back to work can lead to anxiety issues.

3. Remember you won’t be feeling anxious forever

Everyone will feel jitters when we are experiencing change, especially when we are returning to work after a long period.

This feeling is similar to the anxiety that we feel on our first day of work, but it won’t last forever.

Anxiety usually goes away once the “threat passes”. Normally an anxiety will last for the first week then subsequently by the end of the first month, you will be getting over your anxiety issues.

The main reason why you feel anxious is simply because you fear the unknown.

According to an research article by Psychology Today,

“When you feel excitement, the hypothalamus triggers the same physiological reaction. There is very little physiological difference between fear and excitement.”

So, let’s convert your anxiety to excitement and celebrate your first day back to work with gee!

4. Understand the changes in your workplace

Mental preparedness on the changes in your workplace can help reduce your anxiety when getting back to work.

You might be surprised that your employer may have made some changes to the work schedule.

  • Staggered schedule arrangement, where employees vary their start and end working hours.
  • Hybrid work arrangement, where half of the workers will be onsite, while half will be working from home.
  • Full remote working arrangement, where all employees will be working from home.
  • Hot desking arrangement, where desks are used by different people at different times, on an ad hoc basis.

Some changes might be temporary, while the other can be permeant.

Ask your employer what are the changes have taken place in your workplace and what will you be expecting when you return to work.

The situation will continue to evolve and changes might have been made on how you interreact with your colleagues and clients.

Knowing what to expect will allow you to better prepare for your first day returning to work.

5. Talk to your Boss

Speaking to your boss can be stressful, but sometimes, you’ll need to talk to your boss in order to reduce your anxiety and achieve a long term benefit.

There are 2 things you can talk to your boss when getting back to work after a long break.

  1. Workload you can expect when you are back to work.
  2. Work arrangement that might have changed in this evolving time.

Talk about Workload

Workload is a sensitive subject, but it is usually your major source of worry that cause your anxiety.

You may want to politely bring up the issue of the workload.

A conversation of your workload can do the following.

  • Help you set priorities at work.
  • Help your manager to plan for the future.
  • Understand what is the expectation from your boss.

Get alignment in the task you will be doing will be one of the best ways to manage your anxiety and give you a peace of mind.

Talk about work arrangements

If commuting is an issue, it can be a good idea to ask about flexible working, where you can work from home for a day or two a week.

Or change the working hours of the start or finish to a different time to avoid rush hours.

With these changes in the work arrangement, you can save time and probably money on your daily expenses at work.

6. Be realistic in your goals

Be realistic and set realistic goals and expectation for yourself, especially during your first day or week back to work.

You’ll need time to adjust back to the seemingly familiar environment and people.

It is perfectly acceptable for you to be kinder to yourself at what need to be done on the first few days back at work.

Use PACT Goals instead of SMART goals to break down task into smaller chunk and complete them in small bite-sized pieces.

7. Make new friends

Lots have change during your absence at work, many new coworkers might have joined your company or your team.

Introduce yourself to your new colleagues and make new friends. They might be just as anxious as you and is waiting for someone to whom can provide mutual support and encouragement.

A firm handshake, a warm smile, and using only your first name can make you appear more friendly and approachable.

Just keep your introduction as brief as possible.

“Hi, my name is Susan. This is my first week back with the company after my maternity. I am the designer in the team. Welcome to the team!”

Having a friend at work will ease your anxiety because you will find that you are not the only one who is going through the same things.

8. Learn how to calm anxiety quickly

When you are anxious or under stress, you may find your heart beating faster, sweating profusely, muscle become tense and you start to breath faster.

Your breathing become faster because your body is feeling threatened, and it is trying to get more oxygen into your blood, so your heart can pump more blood to your brain and vital organs.

This lead to you feeling more disorientated and even more anxious and stress than before.

Best way to deal with these feeling of anxiety is to learn how to control your body and mind.

How to breathe when anxious?

Learning how to breath when anxious can help you reduce the stress and anxiety level you are feeling so that you can think better even under pressure.

Breathing Technique for Anxiety.

  • Gently breathe in through your nose with your mouth closed, and count for six seconds.
  • Hold your breath in your lungs for three seconds.
  • Exhale your breath slowly allowing your breath to leave your body gently for six seconds.

Make sure your breathing exercise expands your stomach so that your breathing is deep and not shallow.

What to tell yourself when you feel anxious?

When you are having anxiety, you are unsure of yourself and you are having a series of self-doubt.

You may want to have some mantra or affirmations ready as another technique to calm your anxiety.

  • Tell yourself you can do this.
  • Tell yourself it is ok to feel this way, but it is only temporary. 
  • Tell yourself you are strong and will be able to get through this challenge.
  • Tell yourself this will only make you stronger and better.

Positive talk can help you overcome any negative or anxious thoughts about going back to work.

“Practice self validation is a powerful way to deal with anxiety when going back to work.”

9. Seek professional help when required

Anxiety can be a serious mental health issue if you find yourself struggling with anxiety for a prolong period of time.

Speak with your doctor or healthcare professionals. They will direct you to the right treatment, whether it is counseling or medications.

Anxiety disorder is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting over 40 million adults age 18 and older.

“18.1% of the United States population are troubled by anxiety related illness.” – Says Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

If your anxiety problem is having an negative impact to your life, or worsening over time. It is important for you to seek professional help and support.

Some of us need a little extra help when managing our anxiety, and it is okay.

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