Managing anxiety when returning to the workplace

Further lifting of restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’ heralds the phased return to the workplace for many.  As people leave the comfort of their home working space, resume commuting and return to more rigid working hours and patterns, a degree of uncertainty and anxiety can be expected.

Just as wellness rose to prominence during lockdown to help people navigate the changes it brought, physical and mental wellbeing are once more paramount to help people manage anxiety or worry around returning to work.

Here, experts from Gympass, the world’s leading corporate wellness platform, share their tips on how to prioritise workplace wellbeing. 


1. Acknowledge anxiety

Luke Bullen, CEO UK and Ireland for Gympass encourages employers to support staff: “It is important for employers to put a range of measures in place to help their staff transition back to the workplace, including signposting and giving access to stress and anxiety management solutions. Throughout the pandemic there has been a significant uptake of mental wellbeing activities on the Gympass platform – towards the end of last year there was a 115% increase in people using the mindfulness app Calm, with men being the fastest-growing demographic.”

Andrew Walls, Gympass wellbeing coach and personal trainer stresses the importance of talking to people: “The last year or so has been tumultuous and it’s completely normal to feel some anxiety around going back to working in an office on a regular or even part-time basis. There are many things people can do to reduce this anxiety – practice gratitude, meditation and deep breathing exercises, regular exercise, journaling, and most importantly talking to people. This can be friends, family, colleagues or a professional counsellor or coach.”

Alexandra Alhadeff, Lead Behavioural Scientist and Product Manager from Fabulous (a science-based app available on Gympass that motivates people to achieve their goals) encourages people to reflect, re-evaluate, and reclaim their day: “Both your productivity and mental state benefit from regular check-ins with yourself. Take time each day to make sure your physical environment and mental framework support your work and your mindset:

  1. Replace forced concentration and unreliable willpower with a secure, productive workspace where focusing feels natural
  2. Re-evaluate your relationship with technology so that it serves rather than controls you
  3. Reclaim your efficiency by letting go of what holds you back and feeding what fuels your work

“Make time each day to do deep work and celebrate your progress.”

2. Set some simple goals

Andrew encourages people to be realistic: “If you are short on time, my advice is to simplify, simplify, simplify. It is easy to get carried away setting goals when you feel motivated, but life inevitably gets in the way. So, yes, set your goals but more importantly set actions for yourself that you can do with little motivation e.g. I will exercise for 15mins, 3 to 5 times per week. I like to imagine motivation like waves in the ocean, constantly going up and down. My experience has shown me that people fail because they are too vague with their intentions and usually set them for when they’re highly motivated (the top of the wave).

Alexandra recommends stacking and slicing your work: “A well-defined schedule doesn’t just help structure your at-home workday; planning is perfect for the office, too! Follow these three steps to set yourself up for a productive day:

  • Prioritise the 2-3 “must-do tasks” of your day—and write them down
  • Bucket similar tasks together and work on them in shifts. You might have a communication shift for responding to emails and a creative shift for brainstorming or analysing
  • Block time for deep work sessions where you can give large projects your full attention

Plan each day with care and watch it translate into long-term gains.”

3. Make the journey count

Luke encourages people to use the commute time for some simple well-being activities: “If you take public transport to work, all you need is a set of headphones and a smartphone to engage in a meaningful activity to help kickstart your day or relax and unwind after a busy 9-5. Mindfulness, meditation and stress relief programmes can all work well – try a few to find what suits you best.”

Andrew urges people to engage: “As we return to the commute, it can be easy to fall into automatic mode where you tune out. Instead, try to engage in the present moment. Tune into your senses and find things to be grateful for. You’ll be amazed at just how effective this can be in boosting your mood.”

4. “Water cooler” wellbeing

Luke emphasises the benefits of being back with colleagues again: “Undoubtedly, a significant benefit of being in the workplace is the interaction with colleagues – a quick catch up over coffee, supporting a colleague who you can see is having a difficult day, and with wellbeing in mind, the pleasure of company on a lunchtime run, yoga class or simple walk in the park. Make the most of being part of the workplace community again and use those ‘water cooler’ moments for wellbeing.”

Andrew agrees: “Help others and remember you don’t need to go it alone. Having support from people around you will only solidify your chances of finding a life of wellbeing. However, it is important to focus on your own journey. If you have the vision for where you want your wellbeing to be then use that as your own inspiration. Don’t concern yourself with others who may be further ahead than you.”