Beating back to work anxiety

We’ve all been there. As your long weekend comes to a close, or your annual leave comes to an end, that feeling returns to the pit of your stomach. Before you know it, it’s the night before you’re due to return to work and you can’t think of anything else. You can’t stop worrying, can’t sleep, can’t focus

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful 

It’s no surprise that so many of us feel anxious when getting back to work after taking time off. In the UK alone, 74% of us have felt so stressed at some point over the past year that we have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

Feeling worried or anxious from time to time is completely natural; however, when it starts to interfere with your day-to-day life, or the enjoyment of the last few precious days of your time off, it can be a sign that you may need a little extra help to relax, unwind and address what has you on edge.

According to leading mental health charity Mind, one-in-six of us experiences common mental health problems such as anxiety and stress at any given time, with one-in-four of us experiencing mental ill health during our lifetime.

If worries about work are keeping you up at night, or a growing sense of dread is seeping into your time off, there are plenty of small things you can do to help. Here are five simple ways you can beat back to work anxiety and make the most of your time off.

Set yourself up for success

We all worry about the future; the anticipation, and mounting ‘what-ifs’, can be one of the toughest things to get past. Instead of focusing on the tasks or meetings you have ahead, try instead thinking about the here and now.

Ben Edwards suggests getting your thoughts in order. Whether you’ve been enjoying a long weekend or are just getting back from time off after being ill, the first day is bound to be the hardest – and one of your busiest. If you are worried about being bombarded with new tasks, emails, catch-up conversations, meetings – and more – getting your thoughts in order can be a good starting place.

Where possible, it’s great to take just five or 10 minutes to organise your workload and the week ahead before going away; this gives you an easy starting point when you return, whilst reminding you of any outstanding tasks that might have slipped your mind. Having the reassurance that you have a list of priorities ready and waiting to go can help put your mind at ease, allowing you to let go and take full advantage of your time off.

Think long-term

Our fight, flight or freeze response releases hormones including cortisol and adrenaline that make us feel more vigilant – great when we are actually in danger or there is a physical threat, but not so helpful if we are dreading getting back to our inbox at work.

Figuring out exactly what is causing you to feel this way is the first step towards addressing your worries and creating sustainable routines to counter these negative feelings. It can be tough, but try thinking back to the last time you were away from work. Is the anxiety you are feeling now new, or is this something you’ve experienced before? Can you identify what is causing it, or are you feeling a more general sense of unease?

Unfortunately, there isn’t always an easy solution that you can implement here and now, but you can start looking into other, more long-term, methods that can help. Try thinking ‘outside of the box’; different solutions work for different people – it’s all about finding a method that works best for you.

Hypnotherapy can be an effective way to seek out the root cause of your worries and change your relationship with anxiety. Hypnotherapy can help boost feelings of confidence and self-belief, whilst helping to reduce your feelings of fear and worry. Working together with an experienced hypnotherapist, you can tailor your sessions to help discover what triggers your anxiety and why, working towards changing the ways you react and helping you achieve a calmer state of mind.

Take care of your body

It can be easy to overlook, but how well we look after our bodies, and what we eat, can have a significant impact on our stress and anxiety levels. For example, the more stressed and anxious we are feeling, the more our digestive systems can be under strain. Small changes to your diet can have a surprising impact on how you are feeling, physically and emotionally.

Try reducing your caffeine and alcohol intake, as well eating fewer foods high in fat and sugar. While alcohol may have an instant, calming effect in the moment, it can also increase the amount of long-term stress through further impact on your overall health and wellbeing over time.

Similarly, while high sugar foods may provide a short burst of energy, the release is only temporary, followed by a sugar crash that can leave you feeling worse. Switching caffeinated teas and coffees for decaf versions can reduce the amount of strain our bodies are under, as caffeine acts as a stimulant, causing hormones like cortisol –  the substance usually activated during fight, flight or freeze responses –  to release, putting us on edge.

Switch off and relax

Take a moment to consider: how do you usually relax? We’ve each got our own unique, self-care routines, but how many of us spend our downtime moving from one screen at work, to another at home? If you find yourself putting your brain in neutral and setting down with Netflix, or scrolling through social media, you may not be giving yourself the time to actively relax, unwind, reconnect with your body and recognise any signs of stress or strain you may be experiencing.

Listening to music or podcasts can be a relaxing way to unwind without staying glued to your screens. Providing a soothing background noise during meditation, music can help us to calm ourselves, reduce the effects of anxiety, and provide a boost of comfort and positivity. Creating your own playlist can be a soothing way to refocus nervous energy and take your mind off of what is worrying you, whilst at the same time creating a tool you can use in the future to help you unwind. If you’re looking for a few songs to get you started, check out our 20 greatest mental health songs for some inspiration.

If music isn’t your thing, podcasts and audiobooks can offer the opportunity to learn new things, gain confidence and become inspired by others. If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, these nine podcasts to help inspire and motivate you can help you to gain confidence, refocus the direction of your career, and rediscover your passions.

Consider why you’re feeling like this

If back-to-work anxiety, and work worries, have been plaguing your time off, and invading your thoughts, it could be worth taking a step back and considering why this is happening. Is it because you’ve had time away and the thought of returning to your routine is daunting? Or do you feel this same back to work dread every time Sunday rolls around? Is your work/life balance off-kilter, or is there a short-term, temporary reason for your worries?

Work-related stress and anxieties can have a huge impact on all aspects of our lives – both in the office, and at home; the longer we ignore it, the worse it can get. Work-related stress is thought to lead to a number of other mental health problems, ranging from anxiety and depression to low self-esteem and low self-confidence.

If you’re worried that your work is impacting your emotional health and wellbeing, it could be time to speak with a qualified therapist. A counsellor can offer a private, confidential, judgement-free space where you can talk about what is worrying you and explore the steps you can take to overcome these problems.

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