How to prepare for your return to the office: Tips to tackle anxiety

Do YOU have return-to-work anxiety? Experts reveal how to prepare yourself for going to the office after months at home – including chewing gum and taking a ‘home comfort’ with you

  • Many employees encouraged back to their offices will be feeling anxious
  • Psychotherapists and life coaches shared their tips for helping alleviate this
  • Included bringing a piece of your home desk decor with you to chewing gum

As Boris Johnson continues to urge workers back into their offices so long as they are Covid-secure, there will be many feeling anxious about returning to work after more than four months in lockdown.

Fortunately, psychotherapists and life coaches from across the UK have revealed their top tips for helping to alleviate any anxiety ahead of returning to work.

Harley Street life coach Karl Rollison told FEMAIL: ‘The key to defeating anxiety is confidence, and we acquire confidence through repetition and practice.’

He suggested employees should visualize their return to work and plan a step-by-step guide. This ‘journey’ should be repeated until it becomes familiar and any questions that stemmed from this have been answered. 

Elsewhere, Liz Ritchie, a psychotherapist based in Northampton, suggested workers will feel better prepared if they take their own cutlery, food and are aware of shared touch points throughout their building.

Here, the experts reveal the small steps everyone can take to help ease any anxiety or stress they might feel about heading back to their offices.

MAP OUT YOUR DAY FROM START TO FINISH

Psychotherapists and life coaches from across the UK have revealed their top tips for helping to alleviate any anxiety ahead of returning to work (stock photo)

‘The key to defeating anxiety is confidence, and we acquire confidence through repetition and practice,’ said life coach Karl.

‘But how can we practice going back to work? Simple, we use one of the most powerful tools we have: visualisation. When we run through something in our heads, we are telling our subconscious mind to cope with that situation. 

‘If we keep going through a scenario enough, we become familiar, and familiarity dissolves anxiety. So, find a quiet area and get comfortable. Have a notepad to hand, relax and close your eyes. 

‘Think about returning to work but, to make things more manageable, break it down into sections. Each time an idea or question presents itself, write it down. 

‘This is your “Preparation list”, and every item is helping you build a picture, give you focus and take control. Your list should look something like this:

How to prepare for your return to the office 

‘Morning: What should I have for breakfast? What clothes should I wear? Journey: Take a spare mask and hand sanitiser. I need to check the train timetable.

‘Entering the building: Don’t forget my security pass. Can I just walk straight in? Will I need to contact someone to collect me? Do I need to report to security?

‘The workplace: How much social distancing do I need to observe? Will there be sanitiser for shared points? Do I need to take my own drinking vessels? Will I need to wear gloves?

‘Lunch: Do I need to take my own lunch? Do I need my own cutlery? Leaving the office: Do I need to dispose of my own rubbish? Do I need to wipe down my desk and desk phone? Do I need to take my coffee mug home or can I wash it and leave it there?

I’ve helped people all over the world become familiar with the unknown via visualisation. Once you’re at work, muscle memory will cut in, and you’ll wonder what you were worried about.’

BRING A HOME COMFORT WITH YOU 

Neena Jivraj Stevenson, who as Chief Culture Officer at Point A Hotels is in charge of looking after hundreds of hospitality workers, suggested those feeling concerned about returning to work should take a little piece of home with them.  

‘Assuming it’s transportable and clean, boosting your mood by having your favourite home desk-decor – be it a potted peace lily, your preferred pen or even a holiday snap – join you in the office is a great way to stem the mental (and physical) gap between working-from-home and being back at the workplace,’ Neena said. 

CONTINUE YOUR LOCKDOWN HOBBIES

Liz Ritchie, a psychotherapist based in Northampton, insists those worried about returning to the office shouldn’t abandon their lockdown hobbies.

Instead, these passions should be prioritised around work to help you unwind and alleviate any stress you might be feeling. 

‘Do not abandon your self-care routines,’ she told FEMAIL. ‘This still should be a constant and stable part of our “new normal”, and looking after yourself will help you get back into the swing of things. 

‘It is more important than ever to prioritise self-care, so continue the things that put you in a good headspace. With having had more free time, many of us have picked up new hobbies or reignited old passions, like painting, reading, cooking, meditating or baking sourdough. 

‘Don’t let these passions go! It’s more important than ever to prioritise self-care, so continue to prioritise the things that put you in a good headspace.’

PACK SOME CHEWING GUM

Speaking to FEMAIL, Harley Street life coach Karl Rollison revealed the techniques he recommends for when people want to reduce their stress levels.

Harley Street life coach Karl Rollison (pictured) told FEMAIL: ‘The key to defeating anxiety is confidence, and we acquire confidence through repetition and practice.’

His first simple suggestion was to pack some chewing gum when preparing your back-to-work bag.

‘When we were hunter-gatherers, we would eat when it was safe to do so, usually surrounded by our clan, away from predators. Conversely, when we chew, we relax,’ he explained.

‘This is one reason people comfort eat. However, rather than consuming calories instead, we should chew on a good quality gum containing natural sweeteners. The chewing brings down the blanket level of our stress.’

The stress consultant also recommended anyone feeling anxious or nervous should hold their thumb to ‘control their emotional state’.  

‘There is a martial art based concept called Jin Shin Jyutsu that involves manipulating the fingers to control our emotional state,’ Karl revealed.

‘Suppose you are feeling anxious, pinch the thumb of your dominant hand with the fingers of the other side and pull the thumb gently down towards the palm.

‘It instantly reduces negative emotions, and I have helped people overcome extreme phobias with this simple technique. You can do it anywhere, and no one will notice. It’s also great for public speaking.

PREPARE THE NIGHT BEFORE

Neena, who provides expertise and support in performance management, suggested: ‘It’s easy to lose count of the mornings when we’ve sped out the front door forgetting just about everything we need to get through the day.

‘Where previously this might have meant a missed bus or a hastened walk to the tube, being disorganised could now mean you forget to bring your mask, that invaluable hand sanitiser or having to board a crowded train.’

‘Simply don’t run the risk and get organised the night before,’ she insisted. 

‘Make a list of your out the door items, or jot down a note on your phone to make sure you’re leaving the house with everything you need.’

TAKE YOUR OWN CUTLERY AND STATIONARY

Psychotherapist Liz said people heading back to work should be prepared with their own cutlery, food and also be aware of shared touch points throughout the office.

‘Anticipate common scenarios like “how or what am I going to eat and drink?”, she said. ‘Be prepared and bring your own food and cutlery. 

‘”What is my work space now going to look like?” Take note of shared touch points. Be sure to follow the recommended safety precautions of washing hands frequently, and wearing a face covering where required to do so.’

Echoing Liz’s point, Neena added: ‘Re familiarising yourself with what’s needed in an office environment is key to avoiding any stress.

Don’t forget your stationery, bring a water bottle so you don’t have to share kitchen equipment and make sure to pack your phone or laptop charger so you’re not committing to a wild goose chase to secure one of your colleague’s tech kit, which might well make them uncomfortable, as well as you.

‘In for the nine-to-five? Plan to bring lunch if you want to minimise time spent in shops and cafes and don’t forget your cutlery.’ 

Neena Jivraj Stevenson, Chief Culture Officer at Point A Hotels, suggested those feeling concerned about returning to work should take a little piece of home with them

EMBRACE POST-WORK FOMO 

Not everyone’s keen to jump straight back into the work-socialising scene, but some will still need to deal with that pesky fear of missing out (FOMO).

Neena suggested those that aren’t quite ready to be back at the local pub, instead offer to meet in an outdoor setting.

‘Here’s hoping that the post-work pint does not become a thing of the past, but it’s important to remind yourself that evening social activity with colleagues needn’t be mandatory,’ she said.

‘And without wanting to put a damper on post-lockdown life, whilst the office may be a well-policed place of social distancing, the Friday night follow-on may not be.

‘If you’re up for something, but aren’t quite ready to be back at the local pub, perhaps suggest an outdoor, socially distanced park gathering.

‘That said, if you’re remotely uncomfortable about group social activity of any kind – even if it is taking place outdoors – the last thing you should do is beat yourself up about saying no. In other words, embrace the fear of missing out.

‘Alternatively, if you’re keen to gradually dip yourself back into the social scene, seek out outings that involve only smaller groups, and be up front about this with your colleagues, there is no shame in being more selective in your social activity whilst we all adapt to a socially distanced world.’

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