After more than a year of working from home, the prospect of returning the office is becoming a reality for many - as is "return anxiety".
Dr Niall Campbell, consultant psychiatrist at the Priory's Roehampton Hospital in London, is fielding enquires from patients every day expressing concerns about losing their work from home routine and going back into the office.
To mark Mental Health Awareness Week this week, he has shared what employees can do to manage their anxiety and what employers can do to help:
- Employers should arrange mental health training for managers, have mental health champions and promote well-being support. Many employers will have seen the benefits of allowing employees to work remotely - in terms of loyalty, productivity and morale.
- Staff who are very anxious and cannot re-adjust to office life, even weeks in, must be supported. For workers, try and access a mental health champion, or network at work, or a counsellor through work or maybe health insurance. If your work offers counselling, it might be through an Employee Assistance Programme.
- So many jobs can be done successfully from home, and flexible working is here to stay, so this should remain on the table wherever possible.
- Employers could consider offering compressed hours and staggered start and finish times. It is important to listen and fully consider employees' concerns. Some bosses will be more innovative about things like outdoor meetings in the summer months.
- For the employee, self-care is vital - so mindfulness, breathing techniques, diet, exercise, avoidance of alcohol to self-medicate for stress. Some employees are switching to cycling to work where possible. There are some very useful self-help apps for anxiety and stress.
- Keep all lines of communication open with your boss. If you are struggling, they should arrange a conversation as soon as possible and be as supportive as possible. If they aren't, you might want to consider taking independent advice.
Dr Ian Nnatu, a consultant psychiatrist at Priory's North London Hospital and its Wellbeing Centre in Harley Street, also advises anxiety sufferers to try breathing exercises and practice mindfulness and meditation, keep a routine, and focus on what is within their immediate control.
"Accept that the future is uncertain and allow yourself to feel confident that you can cope with whatever comes up or know how to get help," he suggests. "Avoid social media feeds that can cause you to feel destabilised. Stay connected to friends and family. Try and find something pleasurable to do; giving, volunteering, and helping others is a great way of boosting your mood and sense of wellbeing."