Feeling Anxious About Returning To Work?

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The great return is under way. Offices and shops are dusting off desks and counters. Rusty bikes are getting oiled, cars refuelled, bus passes dug out. But feelings are mixed. While some are desperate to get back to normal, others are understandably anxious. COVID-19 is a shapeshifter. People have died and we know the virus is still circulating.

So here are some tips for these tricky times, based on the most up to date evidence and advice. And remember, it’s perfectly natural to feel anxious. The last months have been difficult and things won’t feel normal for a while.

Should I go back to work?

First up let’s talk about those who definitely shouldn’t go back. If you’re at high risk – or caring for someone at high risk – stay at home. This includes people with certain cancers and those who’ve had organ transplants. You can find a full list here.

If you’re at moderate risk – including if you’re pregnant, over 70 or with a BMI of 40 or more – and can’t work from home, then you can go in. Make sure you follow the social distancing guidelines, which include staying two metres away from people where you can, and wear something over your nose and mouth where you can’t. Wash your hands regularly and spend as much time at home as you can.

What support can I expect?

What if you’re not high-risk, can’t work from home, but are worried about going back? Talk to your manager or HR. Legally, your employer has to ensure your place of work is safe. They should undertake a thorough risk assessment, put in place hygiene measures and ensure you can socially distance. If you’re not happy with the measures, or think they’re insufficient, take it up with your manager.

Remember, if your employer makes appropriate adjustments and you can’t work from home, they don’t have to pay you if you don’t go in. Far better to have the earliest possible conversation with your manager. You can always get in touch with those handy souls over at Citizens’ Advice or check out guidance from the Government.

What about public transport?

Being at work is one thing, getting there is another. We’re hearing an awful lot about a transport revolution. Bike sales are certainly booming, and there’s hopeful talk of massive investment in cycling infrastructure. But walking and cycling – as well as driving – aren’t options for lots of us. We’re also likely to see a lot of cars on the road, which may put off first-time cyclists.

So here’s a quick guide to keeping safe on public transport:

  • Remember, it is mandatory to wear a face covering on public transport from Monday June 15th.
  • Where possible, travel off-peak. It’ll help make social distancing easier and reduce overcrowding – talk to your employer about more flexible working
  • Can you take a quieter route with fewer changes?
  • Where possible use contactless payment
  • If you can’t socially distance, keep the time near others to a minimum
  • Avoid touching surfaces where you can, and don’t touch your face – if you need to sneeze, do it in the crook of your arm
  • Consider walking a few additional stops at the beginning and end of your journey – good for your health and it’ll help reduce your contact with others.

How can I feel less anxious?

This can be a scary time, so anxiety is perfectly normal. Whether it’s going on public transport, being in the office for the first time, or the stresses and strains of office politics, anxiety is no surprise. Here are some handy tips for managing your worries:

  • Breathe. Slow down and focus on your breathing. Take slow deep breaths. Remember: anxiety is all about fear of what is going to happen. Focussing on your breath brings you back to the present.
  • Stay in touch. With lockdown beginning to let up, it’s getting easier to see people. But even if you’re not out and about, stay connected. Talk to people. Use the phone or the internet.
  • Look after yourself: eat well and take regular exercise – get out into fresh air if you can, or choose some fun exercises for indoors. Remember, the more you enjoy it, the more you’ll keep at it.
  • Get some sleep – a good night’s kip is the bedrock of your day. Try to keep to regular sleep patterns, and avoid coffee, screens and too much alcohol before bed.
  • Do stuff you like – stay in touch with your hobbies and passions – they’ll help keep you centred.

There’s loads of good stuff about managing anxiety online, including helpful tips from MIND.

Keep well. Keep busy. Stay safe.

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