Guest Post: How to Mentally Prepare for Going Back to Work after a Long Hiatus

Professional businesswoman looking pensive

Extended absences from work can happen for any number of reasons. Illness, pregnancy, moving, marriage, even just taking some time to figure out your next career move – all of these are equally possible and valid.

But what happens when the break ends and the doubts creep in? You start to ask yourself – am I making the right choice? Have I lost my ambition or my skill? Am I even fit to hold a job at all anymore?

Banish all your worries with these helpful mental preparation strategies:

Get Into a Routine

Let’s start with something practical and concrete: routine. When you aren’t working, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of unscheduled days where things get done “whenever it’s most convenient”. However, returning to the working world means getting re-adjusted to a more rigorous schedule with due dates and deadlines.

Going back to a scheduled life can seem daunting – so get a head start. A few weeks before your start date, begin following a light routine. Start with just a couple of items on the schedule: a strict wake up time and bedtime, and blocks set aside for exercise or relaxation. That way, when you do return to work, your mind and body will be much more used to the idea of following a routine, and it will not seem nearly so stifling.

Create a To-Do List

Whether you’re returning to a previously held job or starting a brand new one, you’ll almost certainly have lots to do. It is easy to feel overwhelmed with the sheer number of tasks you need to complete, especially if some or all of them are time-limited.

Conquer your feelings of helplessness by making a concrete to-do list. Write down all tasks which need to be completed, and organise them by priority, difficulty, deadline, or any other system which makes sense to you. When you’re back in the office, you’ll be able to hit the ground running with a clear idea of what needs to get done first.

Seek Support

Going back to work can be a scary thing. It’s easy to fall victim to “impostor syndrome” – the feeling that you don’t belong in the office, that you just don’t fit into your identity as “a working person” anymore. It can lead to doubts, anxiety, high stress levels, and even the feeling that it might just be best if you quit entirely.

It’s important to remember that you’re not alone, and that others have been in your shoes before. Reach out to friends, co-workers, family or professional mentors. Don’t be afraid to share the doubts and anxieties you’re experiencing. The reassurances of those who care about you are by far the most effective method of banishing impostor syndrome for good.

Prioritize Work-Life Balance

Many people find that, upon returning to work, they immediately go from “0 to 100” – from not working at all to constantly thinking and worrying about work every second of every day. This can lead to an unhealthy, unbalanced mindset in which work is always at the forefront of your brain and you fail to take any time for yourself.

Remember the importance of work-life balance, and don’t let it get lost in the shuffle of getting back to your job. Take time to exercise, rest, and pursue hobbies and passions. Have at least an hour or two per day where you shut off your phone, don’t check your email, and disconnect from work entirely.

Get Enough Sleep

There’s no “quick fix” for anxiety and stress associated with returning to work – but “sleep” comes pretty close. People on leave from work, especially for health-related reasons such as illness or pregnancy, often report developing an irregular sleep schedule. They stay up late into the night and take naps or simply feel lethargic throughout the day.

Of course, this kind of schedule isn’t compatible with the average worker’s lifestyle. It’s important to take time to fix your sleep schedule before getting back to the office. Practice going to bed early and waking up at a reasonable time in the morning. Eliminate all-nighters and midday naps. If you’re having trouble adjusting to a regular sleep schedule, don’t be afraid to consult your doctor or a sleep-focused medical professional.

You’ve Got This!

Getting back to work can be scary. Every single person who’s been in this position would agree. Whether it’s a few days, a few weeks, or several months or years, any length of sabbatical can leave you feeling lost, disoriented, and like you simply “aren’t ready” or “don’t fit in”.

With the proper preparation, you can say “no way!” to these doubts and negative feelings. Follow the advice in this helpful guide, and you’ll return to the workplace refreshed, eager, and ready to face any challenges which come your way!


Michael Deane is one of the editors of Qeedle, a small business magazine. When not blogging (or working), he can usually be spotted on the track, doing his laps, or with his nose deep in the latest John Grisham.


By | September 25th 2019

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