Matt Davies

August 22, 2023

How To Cope With Return-To-Work Anxiety

It's that time again, after a nice break, to head back to work. Make it easier with these tips

Returning to work soon? There aren’t many things more stressful than a blissful few weeks off followed by that awful realisation that you have work on Monday morning, the Sunday afternoon blues feel as bad as THAT hangover and you’re dreading the storm you’ll be walking into. Here’s a few ways to help:

1) Don't do anything!

Well, not until you ACTUALLY return to work. It's far too easy to sneak a peak at emails, apps and sales before your first day back, don't! Everything that is there now will be there tomorrow and can be dealt with tomorrow. Your colleagues should have the decency to leave you in peace during your downtime and if you have an arrangement where they can phone you if they need to, then they'll phone you. 

Try your best to relax for those last few hours, it’s your time with family, friends or a decent tv program. Don’t switch on your work phone, any annoying emails will still be there in the morning, everything work related can wait until work begins. 

2) Look on the bright side

There are bright sides? Right?! If not perhaps its time for a change of job...

Focus on the positives of your work. Do you take pride in the work that you do? Perhaps you get to take a scenic walk to work whilst listening to music. Maybe there’s that one colleague you consider a true friend that you haven’t spoken to for a while. If that doesn’t help then take solace in the fact that the evidence suggests that work is good for our health and wellbeing. (provided the workplace is a healthy one)

3) Catch up with colleagues

Have a chat with your colleagues before returning to work. Try to arrange a catchup in person or just have a chat over the phone. It will help ease the pressure on your first day back and you may find they have similar feelings of anxiety or stress that you bond over, or bitch over...  

4) Go to sleep

I used to try and stay up as late as possible to eek out every last moment of my holiday... Which just lead to a very sluggish return to work.

Most of us don’t get enough sleep already, and with the stress and anxiety of returning to work you’re likely to be approaching mental exhaustion. Switch off your screen, dim the lights and wind down with a non-alcoholic drink before going to bed a little earlier. If you practice mindfulness, now is probably the time to do so. Rest is important, look after yourself.

5) There's light at the end of the tunnel.

Or atleast their should be! Whatever your hobby or wind-down activity is, make some time for it after your first day back at work. It’ll give you the motivation to get out of bed that morning, plus it'll help you to remember that work is one part of your life and not its entirety. We work to play. 

6) Is it something deeper?

6) Finally, what is the real issue? The return-to-work blues is very common and normally goes away just a few hours into your shift. If you’re feeling a deeper sense of dread though, then it would pay to identify the root cause and deal with it. The below are a few examples of causes:

i. Hating the commute.
ii. Struggling to fit in
iii. Feeling stagnant
iv. Missing family
v. Workplace negativity
vi. Finding no meaning in work

If any of these examples are causing return to work anxiety that is lasting more than a few hours, then it’s time to address them. You’ll need to make changes, either by talking to your workplace and seeing if they can accommodate you or by learning to accept your position and becoming comfortable with it.

Hybrid working and shift time changes can really help with family and commuting issues. Whilst talking to your employer about job rotation/promotion could really help with the feelings of uselessness or stagnation in your role. It also pays to think about why you work. Beyond paying bills you may be supporting a hobby, a family or even saving for a greater purpose such as homeownership or starting your own business. Keep these reasons front-and-centre to remind yourself that there is reward from the stress of the 9-5. If all else fails, there is no harm in job hunting. Returning to work can really amplify the problems with your current role, and you can use that to drive yourself to find a better, more suitable job.

Last Words

My final piece of advice would be to talk to someone. It can be somebody you trust, or a professional. Tell them how you’re feeling, share your worries. Sometimes when you speak (or type) “out-loud” things become clearer than when you’re talking to the voice in your head.

Stay healthy.

Matthew

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