How To Ease ‘Back To Office’ Anxiety By Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

After a year of working from home (more or less) it is understandable that some people may be feeling anxious or nervous about the lockdown easing and the idea of normal life resuming. Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, a physiologist and sleep and energy expert, offers her expert advice on how to resolve anxiety around getting back to our physical workspaces. 

When many of us were sent home from our offices in March 2020, we all expected that we would be back within a matter of months. Now, more than one year on, what started off as a temporary fix has turned into an ingrained habit. WFH, zoom meetings, social distancing and staying local is our new normal and many of us have embraced and enjoyed this different way of working. As we have found ways in which to make WFH work for us, we have adapted our lifestyles to thrive in the situation. 

But now as we follow the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown and the idea of returning to offices is being bandied around, a new wave of anxiousness is being seen across workforces who are struggling to make this jump back to normal life so quickly. 

The first step to working through these feeling is to accept that it is ok to be experiencing feelings of concern and anxiousness. If you are struggling, try talking to others around you including your team and your manager. Allow yourself the time and space to explore these feelings. Remember that although many things will return to normal, we ourselves as a society have changed and the benefits of a more flexible and less pressured future have been experienced by everyone.  

Over the past year we have had to be more introspective and have developed a deeper relationship with ourselves, for our physical and mental health.  We need to stay connected to this recognising that we are not the same people we were pre-pandemic.  We are more sensitive having been enclosed in our safe homes and self-care will be premium as we get back out there.  This means learning to put yourself first and allowing yourself to say ‘no’ to events. If this doesn’t come easily, try practising it over and over again until it becomes second nature.

Our homes have become our sanctuary, one of the places we feel free from threats and they are our safe place. In these uncertain and worrying times, the nervous system takes the hit and we end up running in survival mode fuelled by anxiety, fear, adrenaline and cortisol. If leaving home is a worry for you, try gradually increasing the time spent away from home each day or speak to your manager about trying out a hybrid working patten to ease you back into normal life.

We may see a rise in burnout and mental health problems, accelerated by the ingrained WFH routines we have established. Sleep pattens have changed, cooking habits have become healthier and many now enjoy a daily walk, in place of their commute. Switching back to pre-pandemic life could see these lifestyle changes become eliminated, which in turn, could affect mental health. Burnout and overwhelm have specific characteristic and can include racing thoughts, a feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach, breathlessness, tight or clenched jaw, unable to slow down, talking fast or being increasingly impatience. If you notice any of these signs, speak to your workplace about how they can help support you and improve your wellbeing. 

Remember that when you are feeling anxious and overwhelmed, self-care is even more important. Our lifestyle and mental health and sleep patterns are all linked and to help overcome anxiousness it’s important to remember to look after yourself. Dr Nerina Ramlakhan‘s 5 non-negotiables are a great start to feeling healthy and happy.

Don’t skip breakfast

Not only is the ‘most important meal of the day’ vital for energy and concentration, but breakfast can affect your sleep too. I recommend eating within the first half-hour of rising, so you can stabilise your blood sugar levels. Stabilising your blood sugar enhances your body’s ability to produce the hormone melatonin, which is needed for sleep, later in the day.

Cut back on caffeine

You might feel like a cup of coffee is exactly what you need to keep you awake and alert after a bad night’s sleep, but relying on caffeine can become a viscous circle, keeping you awake later at night. Cutting back on caffeine can hugely enhance your sleep and help you sleep deeply. Ideally, you should avoid caffeine after 4pm. As well as coffee, it is advisable to avoid tea, fizzy drinks such as Coca-Cola, and even green tea too. Everyone’s caffeine metabolism is different; however, the effects can linger for a long time in the body.

Stay well hydrated

Another non-negotiable is drinking more water and making sure you’re staying hydrated. Not only do you lose water throughout the night but being well hydrated can help reduce awakenings and disruptions caused by dehydration, such as a dry mouth and leg cramps. If you often forget to stay hydrated, set alarms evenly throughout your day, and drink a cup of water whenever they ring. This is extremely important to make sure your amount of sleep is adequate. 

Go to bed early

You should try and go to bed early about three or four nights a week. This is about training your body to receive rest earlier. It might be tempting to stay up and watch that extra episode on Netflix, but this can throw your sleep pattern completely out of whack. Three of four nights a week, you should aim to be in bed between 9:30 and 10pm. You don’t necessarily have to be sleeping but resting or doing something that is restful such as a warm bath, reading a book (not on your phone! The bright light and light exposure causes more sleep problems), listening to soothing music, meditating, or writing a gratitude journal. You can even focus on deep breathing to slowly start preparing your body for sleep. 

Set healthy technology boundaries

The fifth non-negotiable is about having healthy boundaries with technology. This means leaving electronics out of the bedroom. Late bedtimes are often related to technology and social media, with people staying up absorbed by the internet or the television. The blue light from devices also impacts the sleep cycle.  Ideally, your phone should not be the last or first thing you look at before your turn your light out or first thing when you wake up.  

With any big change there will always be a level of anxiety and in such uncertain times it is only natural to be concerned about adapting to constant upheaval. Remember to prioritise your feelings and talk them through and allow yourself the time and space to adapt. Only by giving ourselves the chance to work through our emotions, will we be able to find the solace and solution to move forward in a positive frame of mind. 

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