Getting back into a routine after time away

This content mentions anxiety, which some people may find triggering.

Returning to work or your 'normal' routine after time away, for example, after personal leave or a sabbatical, may bring up strong feelings for you - fear, worry, confusion, relief, or a mixture of different emotions. You might be glad to be back but worry about how things might have changed. This may also apply if you or your loved ones are vulnerable or have mental health concerns.

You might not feel ready to return to everything you enjoyed before, such as going to the cinema or pub, mixing with groups, or travelling by public transport.

It will take time to find your way back and reconnect with life. Don’t be hard on yourself if it’s taking longer than you expected.

Our mental health tips about finding routines, staying connected, eating well and keeping active may help you adapt to changes.

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Coping with fear and anxiety

Fear and anxiety are common emotional responses to change. It’s important to make space for your feelings rather than push them away. Only by building tolerance gently can we move through these fears.

Control what can be controlled. There are many things you can’t control that cause you fear and anxiety – but there are some things you can manage or plan for. Having an action plan for managing things you might find difficult can help. 

Pace yourself. You need to go at the right pace for yourself. Don’t let others bully or pressure you into doing things you don’t want to – but try not to let that be an excuse not to push yourself, especially when reconnecting with friends. Talk about your concerns with those close to you, and allow others to move at their own pace.  

Build up your tolerance. Try doing something that gently challenges you every day or every few days. Don’t worry if it doesn’t go well but keep at it. Keep a note of things you’ve achieved, enjoyed or surprised yourself doing. 

Vary your routines. Mix things up, so you see different people and encounter different situations. If one cafe is too crowded and makes you nervous, try another. If a walk at one time of the day is very busy, try mixing walks at busy times with walks at quieter times.

Talk to your employer. Many workplaces are allowing more flexible working. If you’re finding it hard to get to work, or do particular shifts or activities because of anxiety or fear, speak to your manager, HR or a colleague you trust if that feels right. If you have a long-term mental health problem, you may be entitled to reasonable adjustments as a disabled person under the Equality Act. Even if you haven’t disclosed a mental health problem before, you might benefit from doing so now if it feels safe.

Coping with uncertainty

Focus on the present. You can only do your best with what you have today. Try and keep focused on the moment. Mindfulness meditation is one way of returning your mind to the present moment. 

Focus on what’s certain. While many things are uncertain, there are also things to be hopeful about. Try to notice and appreciate good things as they happen, and take opportunities to reset and relax.

Talk to people you trust. It’s important to talk about how you feel. Don’t dismiss your concerns or judge yourself too harshly. You may be able to find your tribe online, but try and get outside perspectives too.

Picking up social lives

You may start picking up more of your social life again – perhaps because you want to, or maybe you feel pressured by others who are excited to get things back to normal.  

Reconnecting with people may initially feel awkward. Whether it’s feeling uncomfortable physically being around people again, or feeling odd in large groups, take things at your own pace. You can decide on what suits your circumstances or vulnerabilities best.

If you’re in a vulnerable group, you may feel more isolated and unsure of how to start doing the things you miss again. Friends and family may not be able to relate and offer support. Try to find people who do understand what you’re going through, or – if you feel able to – talk to someone you trust about feeling left out. Ask them to find ways to include you that you feel comfortable with.

Looking after children and family

If you’re a parent or carer returning to the workplace, you may welcome the change between work and home – but it may also prove challenging emotionally. We have more detailed advice about looking after your mental health and if you are supporting someone else with their mental health.

If you feel affected by the content you have read, please see our get help page for support.

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