11 ways to boss the return to work

    Women laughing at work
    Published: 23 July 2021. Written by: Tom Ward. 

    Anxious about returning to the office after months of WFH (work from home)? From clocking on to clocking off, here’s your daily wellness guide…

    After a year-and-a-half in lockdown, it isn’t surprising that many of us are feeling anxious about returning to the office. Not only do we have to readapt to actually leaving the house again, the thought of interacting with a team without the framework of a Zoom meeting can be daunting. Not to mention the stress of actually having to get dressed again, in work attire that is.

    Combine that with lingering health fears and having to fit in friends, family, exercise and the laundry we’ve all been sneakily doing between meetings – and ‘normality’ can suddenly feel like a lot.

    It’s important to remember, though, that you aren’t alone. According to a YouGov poll, 44% of UK adults are now feeling anxious about returning to work, with 52% of Londoners in particular feeling anxious about their commute. Meanwhile, a recent survey from Limeade found workers surveyed in five different countries are experiencing high levels of anxiety about readjusting to normal life. 

    To get back into the swing of things, we asked a range of experts to help you plan your working day. Think of this as the framework you can apply to help you crush work meetings, support your mental health and get back to feeling the best you possibly can. Ready when you are. 


    7am: HIIT it

    Man exercising on bike

    Not all of us jump out of bed straight into our gym gear. But if you can psych yourself up, not only will a workout first thing help you feel more alert, it’ll help clock up those Vitality points. The problem is thinking you have to absolutely exhaust yourself before you’ve had your Shreddies. 

    As Will Cloke, director of Revolution Personal Training Studios, explains: ‘If you’re new to exercise, a 20-minute walk each day is a great start. If you are more experienced and you’re used to resistance training, you could aim for 40 minutes,’ he advises. But don’t do it every day. ‘Your rest days are where the magic really happens as your body recovers. Ideally, you should take a rest day every fourth day.’

    8am: Opt for a wholemeal-rich breakfast 

    Family at breakfast

    It’s the most important meal of the day, but not all breakfasts are created equal, as James Vickers, a registered nutritionist and Vitality expert, explains: ‘Fruit-packed smoothies only count as one of your five a day and a lot of sugar is released in the blending process,’ he says. 

    Instead, Vickers recommends you base your breakfast around complex carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar at a steady level throughout the morning. Think oats, wholegrain toast or even wholemeal pancakes. ‘Add in some protein – eggs or Greek yoghurt – to stave off hunger until lunch,’ he advises.

    10am: Be patient

    Woman laughing

    Getting into the swing of things at the start of the day can be difficult. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not firing on all cylinders as soon as you arrive at your desk.

    ‘Be kind to yourself – there is no human being alive motivated every moment of every day,’ explains Henri Saha, a mental health first-aider and member of the British Psychological Society. ‘Our levels of motivation ebb and flow. Sometimes we have laser focus and high energy towards a task. If you’ve been struggling to find your motivation for a significant period, perhaps it’s time to look for a different role or take a break.’

    10.30am: Tackle your biggest task first

    Woman at work

    A great way to get your head in the game can simply be to dive in. ‘Generally speaking, most people have high energy levels in the morning,’ explains Saha. ‘There tends to be a post-lunch slump so creative or collaborative tasks may be best placed earlier in the day, while more mundane tasks requiring less brain power can be completed when our energy is not optimum.’ 

    1pm: Stretch out lunch hour

    Woman stretching at desk

    A big lunch can exhaust us, while a desk-bound one is not only bad for morale, it’s terrible for your posture and digestion, too. 

    ‘A gentle walk is a great way to get your metabolism and energy fired back up for the afternoon ahead,’ explains Mike Jones, a personal trainer and co-founder of Better Happy

    Not sure a walk will quite sort out your achy back? Try this as well: ‘Backache is caused by tight muscles and, most commonly, weak bum muscles,’ Jones explains. ‘Instead of stretching, try firing your bum muscles up to relieve pressure from the lower back. Hold onto a door or desk, come down into a squat position and drive your knees outward to feel your bum muscles activate.’

    Doing this a few times a day will help fend off back pain in the long-term, whereas just stretching provides short-term pain relief.


    2pm: Take a breath

    Man meditating

    In all likelihood, the thing you’ve enjoyed most about working from home is not having to attend meetings IRL. With them now firmly back on the table Niels Eék, a psychologist and co-founder of mental wellbeing platform Remente, has some advice. 

    ‘It is completely natural to feel a little anxious before a big meeting. If you find that anxiety is inhibiting your ability to concentrate, however, discovering methods and techniques to help manage your anxiety is essential if you want to be able to control it.’

    Eék points to a recent study, published in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, which found that people who regularly take part in mindfulness exercises such as meditation and yoga have reduced anxiety levels. Try a three-minute hourglass meditation, taking one minute to focus on your thoughts, another on your breathing and the last minute back to your thoughts to help recover your focus before you hit the boardroom.


    3pm: Swerve the afternoon slump  

    Man drinking water at desk

    Countless studies have found that it’s natural to experience a blood-sugar crash mid-afternoon, but overloading on coffee is not always the best solution when we need a boost. ‘Normally we reach for coffee when we feel tired, hungry or low on energy,’ says Vickers. However, too much caffeine can lead us to crash and leave us feeling worse. ‘Fruit, nuts, seeds and drinking plenty of water are the best options to keep us going throughout the afternoon,’ he advises.

    5pm: Plan your evening meal 

    Man and woman in kitchen 

    Too many of us fall into a familiar pattern: we come home tired from work and grab a takeaway or the nearest thing in the supermarket for dinner. And because we’re stressed from the day, we want to eat as much as possible. Not only can this leave us feeling bloated, it can affect sleep, leaving us on the back foot for the following day.

    ‘Food solves so much more than hunger – an exciting meal can help get us through a stressful afternoon at work, so planning something in advance can stop this quick look at the takeaway menu,’ says Vickers. ‘Keeping your meals interesting with new and exciting dishes is a great way to help you look forward to your evening meal, too.’


    6pm: Do whatever you like to relax 

    Man caring for plants

    Decompressing after work is vital, and something we’ve all overlooked when WFH, as we’ve gone from laptop to sofa in just a few steps. When you get home, take a few moments to decompress before you start cooking. According to Hook Research, the desire for escapism has peaked during lockdown, with consumers curating everything from the TikTok videos they watch to the books they read in an attempt to take autonomy over their lives. 

    ‘I often get asked, “How much should I be meditating?” I don’t meditate at all and you don’t have to either. If a couple of scented candles, for example, help you to relax, fill your boots,’ says Saha. ‘When it comes to relaxing, what’s important is to find what works for you and stick to it.’


    10pm: Take time to reflect

    Woman laying on bed

    Before bed is often when we can get anxious about the next day. Are we on the right path? Are we struggling to stay inspired? Instead of dwelling on negatives that can keep you up all night, Saha advises that you reflect on the positive aspects of your day instead. 

    ‘Gratitude is a great thing,’ he enthuses. ‘The more we take moments throughout our day and focus on the things that we have instead of the things we don’t, the more peace and wellbeing we will experience,as a number of studies show. The more we notice it, the more we actively bring our attention to it, the more we start to notice it naturally.’


    11pm: Track your rest for a better night’s sleep

    Women sleeping

    Sleep powers the mind, restores the body, and fortifies virtually every system we have,’ explains Eék. But, if you’ve found yourself struggling with your sleep routine during the pandemic, the lack of a fixed structure to your day could have thrown your circadian rhythm out of sync. Using a sleep tracker can let you know what pre-bed rituals and timings work for you, and which don’t. 

    Vitality offers mental health support with private health insurance. If you’re a Vitality health insurance member, log into Member Zone to access the mental health hub.