The coronavirus pandemic has had a lot to answer for when it comes to our mental health. Anxiety is reported to be on the rise as we begin to leave lockdown behind and re-enter the world to lead a ‘normal’ life again. After months of quarantine to avoid catching Covid-19, there is understandably a heightened feeling of ‘back-to-work dread’.
The Office for National Statistics says the number of people reporting high levels of anxiety soared during the height of the pandemic, reaching an average of 37% of the UK population. One of the key factors impacting on a person’s anxiety levels was the effect coronavirus was having on their work. One in five people said they found working from home difficult.
As we head back into the workplace, research from Bupa Health Clinics says that two-thirds (65%) of British employees are reporting anxiety about returning to work. Their fears are around not being able to socially distance effectively (42%), the dangers of catching the virus when commuting (38%), and the workplace not being clean enough (37%).
- Anxiety puts people in fight-or-flight mode. Anxiety is there to protect us: it signals that we feel under threat. The fight-or flight mode helps us to escape from a life-threatening situation, or gives us the adrenaline to fight back until the danger has passed. Returning to work after lockdown may not present an actual threat, but anxiety can make it feel like a real one.
- Anxiety can make people project their worries into the future. Anxious feelings particularly become heightened when there are lots of unknowns. Anxious people fret constantly about the ‘what ifs’. This can deplete their rational abilities to think and make decisions.
- Anxiety is not just about worrying thoughts. It can have physical symptoms too. These can include shakiness, rapid heartbeat, breathlessness, sensations of nausea, and dizziness. So, it’s not just ‘in their head’.
- One of the antidotes to anxiety is a feeling of being ‘in control’.
What you can do to support workers with anxiety
- Take their concerns seriously. Don’t dismiss them. They’re not making it up, and they may have a bunch of fears about returning to work. Aim to understand how anxiety can manifest in an individual.
- Be clear in your expectations and instructions. Lack of clarity and poor communication from bosses can be a huge source of anxiety.
- Answer questions about crucial safety factors at work to show how you’re managing the Covid-19 situation. This will include increased hygiene arrangements, social distancing in the workplace, and any other measures you’re taking to prioritise workplace safety. Control is an issue for people with anxiety. Show that you’ve thought everything through and that you have contingency plans should various scenarios arise.
- Be open to requests for working flexibly as employees re-enter the workplace and gradually build up a sense of safety in the post-lockdown ‘new normal’ world.
- Offer reassurance about their job security – or at least have a realistic conversation about what will happen. With anxiety, it’s always better to know that not know. Uncertainty breeds more anxiety.
- Check in with them regularly to see how they’re doing.
- Offer mental health support if necessary. Ensure they have someone to talk to (you, a colleague, a mental health or emotional support service). If they’re really struggling, then suggest they could speak to their GP.
- Encourage and promote self-care and work-life balance. That applies to bosses, too.
If you feel you or someone you know could benefit from professional support for anxiety, dread or fear, then get in touch with our team. We have therapy sessions available seven days a week – online or by phone, as well as a growing number of face-to-face appointments at our centres in Clapham and Tooting. Call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected]