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  • Michael Philp

Returning to work and anxiety

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Many of us have returned to work over the last week or so after the Christmas and New Year break, with Christmas this year giving us a 4 day holiday and the opportunity to extend that with only a few annual leave days used up. The Christmas and New Year period is often a time for reflection of the past year and developing goals for the next year. It's also a time where a lot of people are talking about returning to work or having time off, and the thought of returning to work after a break can lead to a few sleepless nights in the lead up to returning to work. If that sounds like you, read on because I am going to discuss some of the causes and tips to help you cope through this period.


If you were one of the lucky people who was able to have time off over Christmas and New Years, chances are you experienced the feeling of initial relaxation and unwinding over the year, and perhaps leading into some anticipation of returning to work in January, and maybe even some 'return to work blues' on your first day back. But what about those who spent the days leading up to the return to work, in a cold sweat thinking about work, unable to sleep properly as they ruminated over all the tasks they need to complete once they return to work? Did the thought of returning to work make your stomach twist in knots? Did you spend the last few days of your holiday thinking about all the work you have to do on your return? Did you spend time thinking about quitting your job because of the stress?

Many Australians experience the same level of anticipation of returning to work. However, prolonged stress at work can lead to more serious problems such as anxiety. This includes worrying thoughts about work, constantly thinking about work, difficulty sleeping, as well as physical symptoms of anxiety such as a racing heart beat, butterflies in stomach, or even stomach upsets. If you've had a break from work and then started dreading returning to work, as well as experiencing these symptoms, chances are that they are a little more serious than the return to work blues.

There are many reasons why you may be feeling stressed at work. The more common factors include a sense of being provided with too much work, workplace changes, and conflict. Whatever the reason may be, it is often when a break has occurred that we have an opportunity to notice and reflect the amount of stress that we have been under. It's why many of us get sick on our holidays, because our bodies finally have some time to relax.

How to manage the return to work anxiety?

There are several options to manage stress, and you can see my previous blog on workplace stress for some strategies here. Going into 2018, I want to suggest a strategy that will revolutionize the way that you think about your stress and anxiety at work, that will provide you with reduced stress (not the absence of stress, as that will lead to poor productivity) and increased resilience.

You may have heard of a gratitude journal, that encourages you to think of things that you are thankful for over the day. The purpose of this is to change your natural 'confirmation bias' from negative experiences - such as work sucks, I'm unappreciated - to positive experiences. It sounds easy, but in fact it requires work and commitment to change.

Here's the challenge - over the next 28 days, at the end of the day, write down 3 things in your day that have been positive. These might relate to work or outside of work. They can be big or small, internal (what you think/feel) or external (what you did) experiences. At the end of each week, look back at your journal and reflect on the positive experiences you had. Then reflect on how you feel, and notice if you are feeling more optimistic about your circumstances, your work and you are feeling less stressed.


There is still the possibility that despite implementing the positivity journal, you still feel stressed and anxious. If that is the case, then you may benefit from seeing one of our psychologists at Grove Psychology, who can help you address the symptoms of anxiety and help you manage these symptoms. Simply click on the book now button to schedule an appointment.

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