The third lockdown is finally easing and many of us are enjoying our newly found freedom. We can now eat at restaurants and pubs, non-essential shops have opened and hair and beauty appointments are back on.
However, it’s not all plain sailing from here. For some people, the lifting of restrictions is daunting — particularly for those who have to head back to the office.
“Considering it’s been over a year since we departed from our ‘normal’ lives, it’s hardly surprising that ‘post-lockdown anxiety’ has become a well-googled phrase, with 13,000 searches for the term between March and April of this year,” says Kirsty Lilley, mental health expert at the wellbeing charity .
But what is it about returning to the workplace after a year of remote working that is making us so anxious?
Re-learning how to socialise
As your contact with people outside your home is likely to have been limited over the past year, the thought of socialising, visiting friends and meeting up can feel incredibly overwhelming. But as with many things, the thought of doing it is likely to be a lot more daunting than the actual event.
“Push yourself to attend your first social event – perhaps a small one to start with – and your confidence will boost each time,” says Lilley. “It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not just you feeling like this, and it’s likely the others you’re meeting are feeling similar. Take it slow, and if you feel overwhelmed, don’t feel pressured to stay.”
Overcoming lockdown fatigue
Not only are we tired of lockdown, we are tired in general. The constant anxiety of living and working through a pandemic has left many of us feeling low in energy, and the thought of commuting and working in an office alongside others can seem exhausting.
“Our bodies have been running on high alert throughout the pandemic. Couple this with the uncertainty and often fear we’ve endured, and it’s unsurprising that our reserves are low,” Lilley explains.
“Sleep is key to fixing this. Not only will getting ourselves back into a good sleeping pattern work wonders in overcoming this fatigue, but it can help us beat our general anxieties too,” she says. “If you’ve been at home more often than before, it’s likely your sleep pattern has suffered. Perhaps you’re sleeping until late in the day or taking naps and staying up late at night. Get yourself back into a beneficial routine and stick to it rigidly.”
Change makes us anxious
Since the first lockdown was introduced in March 2020, we have endured change after change and had to adapt to difficult circumstances. And after a year of home-working, the thought of another transition into the office can be deeply unsettling.
“After a year of working in our makeshift office spaces, connected to our colleagues via video calls and instant messaging apps, it’s unsurprising that the return to work is a topic causing many people anxiety,” Lilley says.
“So, what can you do to help with anxiety around the idea of returning to work? Firstly, it’s important to let your line manager in on these feelings. The more they know, the more they can support and offer flexibility to reduce anxiety. Ask for a clear returning to work plan or schedule that you can build yourself up to. Find a balance that you’re comfortable with and challenge yourself slowly.”
Less time for ourselves
Lockdown has been isolating and although we have craved the company of friends and family, we’ve also had more time to ourselves. We’ve been able to go for walks, exercise, read and take time for quiet activities at home, which may well change when we’re back in the office.
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t make time for yourself. Schedule periods to do the things you enjoy, whether it is going to the gym or reading a good book.“Take breaks when you can, go out for a stroll during the day and try to break up your time at your screen. It’s important to not be too hard on yourself,” says Lilley.
“You’ve lived through a global pandemic and the world was turned upside down for a long period of time. Give yourself time to adjust and for your ‘fight or flight’ response, which has been working in overdrive during the pandemic, to slowly dial down.”
Being around different people
Although being around our partners, housemates or families 24/7 has been difficult for many, we’re now used to their company. You may have come up against each other, but now, the thought of being around our colleagues and bosses instead can seem overwhelming.
However, spending more time apart will give you something different to talk about on your return - and you’ll appreciate the time you spend together more. “As lockdown is lifting, there is more opening up and there are increasing options to keep busy outside of the house and supermarkets - seize these opportunities,” Lilley says.
“But as well as spending time apart, spend some quality time together getting out and doing things you used to enjoy away from your home. Remember what you used to get up to before Covid and enjoy those shared experiences.”
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