Dear Kirsten, 

I’ve been working from home for a financial company since the lockdown began. I liked it to start with, but this year I’ve started missing seeing people and having my home and work together has got me feeling a bit down, I don’t really see many people any more and I’ve realised the social side of work was really important to me.

 The thing is, I want to go back but I’m scared to go back. I have had both jabs so really I know I should be fine, I cant stop feeling worried about it, I don’t think I will cope with people being close to me, I don’t know if I should wear a mask or will others wear a mask, will I look stupid if I do. Do I sanitise things? Am I protected from Long Covid with the jabs? I can’t stop feeling like it’s not safe and I feel that everyone around me is feeling ok with the going back to work thing.

I’ve not had a problem with anxiety before but now I’m not sleeping very well and I just can’t stop worrying about how I will cope when we go back in.

Name withheld

Kirsten says:

Covid has played havoc with our internal regulation systems, you’ve been told to be very scared of something, you’ve been shown graphic details, death tolls and told to take really valid steps to protect yourself because if you don’t, there has been a very real possibility of illness or worse. Our brains can’t instantly unlearn that, they can’t immediately revert back to feeling safe even when faced with facts that start to show things are safer now.

 This fear you are feeling is a very normal response to what we have all been through - and it’s common. For every one of us ripping off our masks and legging it to Greece, there will be those of us scared about the future, uncertain about the vaccine, worried about Long Covid, wanting to keep protective measures in place. Both are valid responses to an unprecedented event.

Plan a step by step approach

If you can, break down your return to work into all of its components - travel, lunch breaks, your workspace: think of ways you can control things, if having sanitiser on the desk makes you feel safer then do it, if wearing a mask makes things easier, do it.

Get support

Have a chat with your line manager or someone that has a similar role. It’s likely they will have heard worries from others and will have thought about how to look after staff returning to work. Talk to others in your team or your work place, sound out if others are feeling similarly and if you can, share your concerns, they’re not silly, they’re based on the learning you have had over the last year.

Get fact savvy

We’ve heard so many difficult reports of Covid, we’ve seen death tolls, we know about Long Covid. Balance out the past year with looking at the success rates of the vaccines to try and get the risk in perspective. We can’t rule out risk - in anything, we can minimise it and the vaccines and testing are helping us do that.

Learn some healthy coping strategies 

Our brains are responding to perceived risk - and its no wonder with what 2020 gave us. Help reset body and mind with some self regulation techniques. A really simple one is to inhale slowly fora count of five into your abdomen, hold for a few seconds and then exhale for a count longer. Repeat it a few times through the day; it helps to communicate to your body that all is well.

Positive self talk is really helpful. It can feel a little bit like you are going through the motions at first however if you keep going it can become second nature. Start by telling yourself you will get through this, you’re strong, you’ve faced tough times before, your worries are normal. Create some key phrases to recite through the day, imagine what you would say to a friend feeling similarly and use it on yourself, combine it with the breathing techniques to really start to slow body and mind.

Keep your routines, use a worry journal before you sleep, write everything down in there that comes into your mind before bed. Try apps like Calm or Headspace to help you get into a more restful mindset before bed. Have a hot shower or bath - raising skin temperature lowers core temperature which helps signal to the body it’s time to sleep.

Lastly, if its all getting too much, reach out for some support - Mind or your GP will have some good suggestions and sometimes a little bit of support is all we need to get back on our feet.

Kirsten Antoncich UKCP Clinical psychotherapist and Neurofeedback Practitioner @kirstenantoncich