Four ways to manage return to work anxiety

woman wearing a face mask, returning to work after lockdown, COVID-19, preparedness, anxiety

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now. Covid-19 has left not one aspect of our society untouched.

The disruption is felt in our careers too.

We had to adjust from “normal” working patterns to working from home seemingly at the speed of light. On top of that, many of us have had to adjust to doing this while providing round the clock childcare and/or looking after loved ones.

And now we’re being asked to go back to offices as companies plan for their recovery.

In my practice, I’m seeing a lot of anxiety as my clients return to work and their worries tend to focus on four main phenomena.

The good news is that we have some power to help ourselves as we face the challenges wrought by Covid-19. These are tough times, but with a few self-supporting tactics we can make a huge difference to how we navigate them.

Tip 1: Identify Imposter Syndrome and call it out

You might have heard of Imposter Syndrome – for some women it isn’t a fleeting moment of doubt but a very real everyday experience. As many as 70 per cent of us deal with it. It’s an insidious feeling that tells us that we’re not good enough. Recent research suggests that this internal criticism is the driver behind self-doubt – it’s what we tell ourselves, not what others say to us or about us that seems to make all the difference.

Comparing ourselves to others in a professional setting can be motivating. However, you need to monitor this carefully. It’s no longer healthy when positive comparison tipples over into crippling self-doubt.

Acknowledge when you are feeling like an ‘imposter’ and counter it by reflecting on the achievements you’ve made. Train your mind to not fixate on the one task that you could have improved on, but the 99 others you did brilliantly.

Understanding that Imposter Syndrome is rampant among many of us, especially professional women, helps us identify it in ourselves. From Michelle Obama to Ellie Goulding, Maya Angelou to Natalie Portman, these amazing women have all spoken about how they’ve doubted their abilities, positions and talents. Undoubtedly there will be colleagues and friends that feel the same way.

Tip 2: Be on the lookout for burnout

Achieving at work comes with many rewards. We feel validated that our professional skills are having an impact, our team members may admire us and financial bonuses could be made in recognition of our contribution.

All of these are good, but what happens when we need a break and don’t take one?

One of the serious repercussions could be burnout.

My number one caution to my clients who are showing the early signs of burnout is that soldiering on is the worst strategy of all. Early signs include becoming disengaged with work, feeling little drive, low energy, depressive feelings and physical exhaustion.

Recovering from burnout takes a year at least. Recognising the signs early and responding could mean flourishing in a career you love.

Protect your health by prioritising healthy eating, sufficient rest and exercise, and strong relationships. All of these are proven immune boosters and will safeguard your mental health. And of course, seek help early if you are feeling overwhelmed, speak to a medical professional, a trained counsellor or support service.

Tip 3: Discover your boundary superpower

It’s not always easy to say “no”, but you can exercise this muscle and get better at it.

Sometimes it’s easy to mistake being taken for granted and pushed too far as what it takes to be a team player. Spoiler alert: it’s not.

The key to learning to say ‘no’ lies in becoming clear on your own values. Once you understand what your values are, you’ll set boundaries that will increase your self-respect and send a clear, confident message to others.

If you are not comfortable with setting and keeping boundaries, it can be difficult when you have to implement them in your professional life.

Working with a coach can help you to understand your values and how you communicate these to others. It is also about increasing your self-esteem and assertiveness skills. As well as gaining better control over work-life balance, setting professional boundaries often leads to greater respect from colleagues.

Not only are boundaries are a foundation of self-care – your boundaries could encourage someone else to set boundaries too. They’re healthily contagious that way!

Tip 4: Re-evaluate your priorities

Covid-19 has wreaked a huge amount of trauma and damage for people. Acknowledging this is necessary for us to ultimately move on from a collective standpoint as well as individually.

Among the many hardships Covid-19 has dished out, it’s also worth remembering that seismic events, like pandemics, also remind us to look at our priorities.

Does your job still suit you? Would you like to be working in this role/career/industry in five years’ time?

Retraining is possible. I embarked on a career change at 40 years of age, after spending years in advertising and hospitality.

Re-evaluating what we want from our professional lives is an empowering and exciting thing to do. If there’s any silver lining to the Coronavirus cloud, it’s that we’re being shocked into thinking about our values and how our lives align with them. Our jobs are a big part of that.

The virus might be around a while still, but it will be in our rear-view mirror one day. Both now and then, it’s a smart mental health approach to focus on what you can control and ensure you support yourself to manage the many responsibilities you may face.

If you’re thinking about the changes you’d like to make in your life, speak to a trusted confidante to evaluate all your options and help determine a path that aligns with your values and longer-term goals.

Amanda FalksonAbout the author

Amanda Falkson is a highly experienced psychotherapist and coach based in the City of London. She set up her Psychotherapy City practice in 2004 and works with clients who are typically City-based high-achievers. She’s worked with many lawyers, financiers and startup entrepreneurs – people with highly demanding roles and great responsibilities – who want to make change.


If you are a job seeker or someone looking to boost their career, then WeAreTheCity has thousands of free career-related articles. From interview tips, CV advice to training and working from home, you can find all our career advice articles here.

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