Returning to work after furlough – How to manage the anxieties you might be feeling

After weeks of living under lockdown, our worlds are slowly starting to open up again. With restrictions beginning to ease, many people that were furloughed are now being asked to return to work. But what do you do if you’re feeling anxious about returning to work? Laura Peters, Head of Advice and Information Services at Mental Health UK, provides some useful tips.


For some people, there might be a lot to feel anxious about. Returning to work might mean using public transport again or having to find a balance between work and home life when your office is your home. Thankfully, there are a number of measures that you can take to ensure that the anxiety you might be feeling doesn’t overwhelm you.

First and foremost, it is key to identify the source of your anxiety. Knowing what you’re feeling anxious about makes it much easier to establish ways to manage that anxiety.

Once that’s done there are a number of options open to you.

First, ask yourself if the source of your anxiety can be removed. For example, people are telling us that they’re worried about using public transport to get to work, as this might increase their risk of contracting the virus. While it won’t be possible for everyone, either walking or cycling to work instead can be an effective alternative and it helps to keep us active, which is known to have a positive impact on our mental health.

Secondly, you could employ what I like to call taking your thoughts to court. You need to take your worry and interrogate it as though it’s on trial – presenting evidence for and against your anxieties until you come to a conclusion.

In our example, the evidence for this anxiety might be that travelling on public transport increases the number of people you’re sharing a confined space with when you’re not used to being in busier environments. On the other hand, the evidence against might suggest that social distancing measures are in place, and the requirement for people to wear a face mask will help to minimise that risk.

It’s all about finding a balance that you’re comfortable with. You might say to yourself that, on reflection, you don’t mind getting the bus as long as it’s not too full and people are following the guidance by wearing a facemask. But if it feels too busy and you feel your worries start to creep up, maybe wait for the next bus.

Reasoning through scenarios like this will help you to establish the difference between normal worries and anxieties that you are catastrophising to the point that it might feel overwhelming.

If you find that you’re struggling to take your thoughts to court in your own head, you can always ask a friend to help play the role out with you. Watch the video below to see another example of taking your thoughts to court.

Finally, maintaining an open dialogue with your line manager can be really helpful. In the same way that taking your thoughts to court allows you to reason through your worries, sharing them can help people understand how they can support you. If you have to go into work, familiarise yourself with the safety measures in place, or ask about flexible working if that’s an option for you.

With lockdown easing and more and more workplaces opening up, it’s just as important now as it always was to be on the lookout for friends and loved ones who might be struggling with their mental health. Even if you’re not feeling anxious, the tips shared here can still be used to help others that might find it helpful.

Whether you’re venturing back into the workplace or settling into a new home office, you may feel anxious about returning back to work after a significant time away. Whatever you’re about, it’s important to take steps to ensure that those worries don’t make you feel trapped, and either try to reason through them, or to ask for help if you need it.

For more information on anxiety, you can visit our advice page here.

Maintaining an open dialogue with your line manager can be really helpful. In the same way that taking your thoughts to court allows you to reason through your worries, sharing them can help people understand how they can support you.

– Laura Peters, Mental Health UK

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