Coping with the stress, anxiety and worry of returning to the office or workplace after a long absence
Whatever the reason that caused you to be absent from the workplace or office for an extended period, returning to work can be an anxious time for anyone.
Psychotherapy for returning to work can help with the anxiety, stress, fear and depression that you may feel when you contemplate returning to the office or workplace.
There are a myriad of reasons why you may have been absent for a prolonged period of time from the office or workplace, but some of the main ones are:
- Returning to the workplace after COVID
- Returning to the office after a long physical illness or following an operation and recovery
- Returning to the office after a break due to mental health issues
- Returning to the workplace after raising a family
- Returning to the office after maternity leave
Whatever the reason for your absence from the work environment, even if you have continued to work from home, it is inevitable that there will be some anxiety and trepidation, talking to a therapist about your thoughts and worries about returning to work can help you sort out your feelings and strengthen your positivity and self-confidence.
Common thoughts or anxieties about going back to work or the office are:
- What has changed, will I feel lost or displaced?
- Will I still fit in, have my colleagues left or been promoted?
- What if everyone has moved on?
- Will I be able to juggle work and home life?
- Can I still do the job, will I feel out of my depth, will I understand the new environment?
- Do I still like doing this work, what if I hate being there?
- What are my options, do I have to go back full time or at all?
- Will going back make me ill again, it’s the reason I was on sick-leave in the first place?
Of course everyone’s individual situations and circumstances will be different but many anxieties and worries are similar.
Talking with a therapist helps you to explore where or why the anxiety or stress is being triggered and discuss how you approach your worries and concerns and build a plan to prepare you for your return to work.
Therapy for returning to the workplace after COVID
Let’s start with the good news! You are definitely not alone if you are feeling anxious about going back to the office having been working from home for perhaps a year or more. The majority of your colleagues will be facing the same feelings. Anxiety and trepidation about the situation.
There has been a global wave of ‘home attachment’, becoming used to, and enjoying being ‘at work’ at home, so the very idea that you may now have to leave home to go back to your workplace may be causing you some ‘attachment issues’.
However, just knowing that almost everyone has been in the same situation as you doesn’t necessarily alleviate all your fears.
- Will I be at risk on public transport?
- Will the workplace be COVID safe and what about the risk from colleagues?
- I’m happy being in my own environment, I can control it and keep it safe, but I can’t at work.
- I’ve come to enjoy working from home, I spend less time commuting and my environment is better
- Will I be pressured to ‘join in’ on meetings and other group activities, I won’t feel safe?
Although returning to the workplace following COVID does have some unique challenges, mainly around the fear of the virus and the risks associated with getting to and then being at the office, many of the issues or concerns you may have are common to any reason for being off work for an extended period of time.
Talking to a therapist about your anxiety of returning to work after COVID can help you to air your worries and talk through what you are feeling.
Therapy for anxiety around returning to the office after a long illness
Again let’s start with the good news, you’ve recovered or feel sufficiently improved to think about returning to the office following a prolonged bout of illness or perhaps following an operation and subsequent convalescence.
However, returning to the office will inevitably feel stressful. Quite apart from the fact that you may still be recovering from an illness or an operation, and so your energy levels and perhaps level of pain, will very much be a factor you have to consider when planning how much you can do and how you care for your health whilst getting back into the workplace environment.
Returning to the workplace following an illness you may worry:
- Will I be seen as expendable as I’m not able to take on what I used to
- Will I tire quickly and so not perform to the standard and level I used to
- Will my colleagues be resentful if I am only doing half days or not taking on as much work
- Will going back slow my recovery or even make me ill again?
- What if I can’t do the work anymore, what then?
Often these sorts of anxiety and worries are created by the individual because they imagine worst case scenarios. There are many practical things that you can do to alleviate these worries such as speaking to your organisation to discuss how you manage your return to work and what you feel will be an acceptable plan.
Talking to a therapist about your fears of returning to the office after a prolonged illness or recovery from an operation can help you to assess your anxiety and even build a plan of how you can support yourself as you ease back into your career.
Therapy for anxiety around returning to work after absence due to your mental health
If you have needed time off due to an episode of severe stress, anxiety or depression, then the last thing you want is to put pressure on yourself thinking about returning to your workplace or the office and suffer a relapse.
It might feel like a vicious circle, you were off with anxiety, stress or depression because of your work and now you have recovered you are feeling, stressed, anxious, panicky and depressed about going back to the very place that was possibly the cause of the suffering.
Or perhaps you want to go back but you are worried and anxious that you won’t cope with the adjustment of going back to the workplace and your colleagues.
Talking with a therapist about your anxiety of returning to work following a period of sick leave due to some form of psychological illness can help you to plan and prepare for your return and feel confident and positive about returning to the office or workplace.
Therapy for returning to the office after maternity leave
One of the hardest things for any new mother to do is to return to the workplace after having a child. Quite apart from the need to rest and recover from having given birth and the demands you will have been facing caring for your new born, there are also all the emotional issues that you face:
- Should I be going back to work and leaving my baby at this time?
- Will I be able to cover my role and be a good mother?
- How will I find the time to do everything and still enjoy my work, my baby, my life?
- Will others in the office be supportive or resentful because my priorities have changed?
- I feel guilty, as I am secretly looking forward to leaving my child and having a break!
Some working mothers experience feelings of guilt for leaving their child with someone else or feel inadequate for not being capable of handling the stresses of a new baby, new routines, and a new “normal.”
Other mothers feel guilty for ‘wanting’ to leave their child in someone else’s care and are secretly looking forward to their return to work.
There is also the unexpected challenge of trying to get back into work whilst still coping with the upset sleeping patterns and the overwhelming feeling of fatigue.
You may have really organised things, got the baby care sorted, you’ve talked and planned your schedule with your partner, but even the best laid plans can hit glitches. Predicting and planning for the emotional challenges of returning to work are hard to prepare for and perhaps now that you are back at work you need to talk through what has come up for you.
Talking with a psychotherapist about your concerns about returning to work after maternity leave can help you to build a plan and feel comfortable with the decisions you need to make.
Therapy for returning to the office or workplace after raising a family
For those who have been out of the workplace for perhaps anything from 5 to 20 years, returning to the workplace after raising a family is possibly one of the hardest ‘returning to work’ scenarios to cope with.
Whether you are considering returning to the profession or role that you were in before you began your family or you are considering taking a new direction, perhaps learning a new skill, there is the self-doubt and the worry that you have just been out of the workplace too long to be able to adjust and get back in again.
- What job, and are there even roles for me?
- My skills are so out of date, can I really keep up?
- Will I fit in, they’ll all be so young I’ll feel so old?
- Will I be able use the technology?
- Will I be able to find something which fits around the family?
- CV, heck, what do I put on my CV?
- I never was good at interviews but now it’s all psychometric testing, yikes
- No one will be interested in me, what have I got to offer
Of course there are the worries that time has passed you by, however you have new skills and life experience and this can carry you a lot further than you realise. Perhaps you need to talk through your fears with a therapist and hear you speak them out loud.
It might be that the fear of returning to work after being absent for such a long period is triggering some deep seated trauma or issues that have been long buried but are now surfacing again, these could be around self-esteem, self-confidence and self-belief.
You might find that the time talking with the therapist about returning to work after raising a family opens up ideas of new roles you might want to consider, or even new industries to retrain for.
Therapy for returning to the workplace after a leave of absence
Whatever the reason for your period of absence from work, talking with a trained therapist can help you put your fears and feelings into perspective and help you to approach this new chapter in your life with confidence and a positive attitude.
Finding a therapist to discuss issues around returning to the workplace
All good therapy is based on a strong therapeutic relationship between the client and the therapist. Trust, confidence, feeling safe and supported are all key to building a strong successful working relationship where there is good communication and mutual understanding. Both you and the therapist want the therapy to succeed.
Start by looking at profiles of therapists who work with workplace issues and take time to read their profiles. The following therapists work specifically with emotional issues and anxiety around returning to the workplace or office: Agata Pisula, Corinne Sweet, Emma Pearson, Lokadhi Lloyd
Contact a number of therapists to discuss your situation and how they might help you with your issues. Don’t’ be afraid to ask them about their experience of working with this subject.
© Brian Cotsen