The government’s lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus has disrupted all our lives. After spending weeks where we only went out to shop for essential items or to exercise, the gradual relaxation of restrictions is a welcome relief.
But for some people the prospect of more freedom is causing fear and anxiety.
As the economy reopens we are starting to see more and more people coming out of furlough and returning to their place of work. For many this will involve travelling on public transport or dealing with customers and clients, bringing them into closer contact with far more people than they have been used to for quite some time. This can give rise to feelings of anxiety brought on by a fear of catching coronavirus and the consequences that may bring.
Firstly, I’d like to say that being a little anxious is quite understandable. After such a long period avoiding each other it would be unusual if we weren’t apprehensive about venturing out more. It can even be a good thing as it reminds us that coronavirus is still here and we need to maintain social distancing and stay alert.
But it’s important not to let concerns about returning to work get out of control to the point where they are dominating your thoughts and adversely affecting your daily life.
Anxiety affects people in different ways but the most common symptoms include feeling restless, nervous or tense, a dry mouth, sweaty hands and sleep problems. If the thought of returning to work is making you anxious, there are actions you can take that will help.
Focus on the things that you have control over. For example, if your job involves engaging with the public wear a mask or other face covering, wear disposable gloves, and depending on your role ensure you have other items of PPE if they are required.
Talk to your boss or line manager about the measures being put in place to protect staff from coronavirus. What are the working arrangements going to be like? Where are you going to sit? Will there be staggered start times to limit the number of people at work at the same time?
The more information you have, the more in control you will feel.
I would also advise against spending too much time on social media looking for the “latest news” on the pandemic. Although we all need to keep up to date with what’s going on, there is a lot of disinformation online which research shows only serves to reinforce people’s fears and increase anxiety.
However, if your anxiety is so bad you feel unable to go back to work I would encourage you to seek help. Again, talk to your line manager or HR department as your company may be running a counselling scheme. NHS mental health services including talking therapies are available and information about how to access these can be found on your local clinical commissioning group’s website and from your GP practice.
By seeking help you will be able to control your fears and anxiety and take the next steps towards returning to normal life.
Dr Kirti Singh
Mental Health, Learning Disability and End of Life Care
Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes CCGs