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7 tips for returning to work after medical leave

Returning to work after being off for some time due to medical reasons can be daunting and you can quickly start to feel overwhelmed. I’ve been through this over the last couple of months having returned to work after a long period off in the summer and I wanted to share what I’ve learned in the process and my advice if you ever find yourself in this situation (which I hope you don’t). 

My top tips for returning to work after an illness 

There is a lot of help and support out there to help you phase back into your normal routine, I know I received a lot of guidance from work but there are also some key things that you can do yourself to ensure this is as smooth as can be.

Be strict with your time

This one is key. It can be so easy to fall back into a routine of going into the office early and staying late to get through your to-do list and almost ‘catching up on lost time’ but you need to be strict and avoid this as much as possible, especially at the beginning. I had an honest and open conversation with my occupational health nurse about phasing back into work and sticking to my core hours for at least the first few weeks back to make sure I wasn’t overdoing it and this was crucial. I’m still trying to stick by this rule as much as possible because it can take longer than you expect to get back to feeling 100%. 

Speak to your colleagues if you’re feeling overwhelmed 

I think this one is really important. Work can quite quickly become busy leaving you feeling as if you don’t have enough time to get through everything, especially if you’re trying to stick to your core hours. Speaking up when you’re feeling overwhelmed is so powerful and will help you to prioritise and focus on a few things that need to get done rather than over pilling yourself with work. Your colleagues and team members are there to help and I’ve found speaking to my manager regularly has helped.  

Consider flexing your work pattern   

You don’t always realise how much of a mission going through your morning routine can be until you’ve been out of it for some time. Flexing your work pattern whether that be to go into the office a little later and leave a little earlier to avoid the rush hour or working from home a couple of days can make all of the difference in the first few weeks and can remove that unnecessary stress. We are lucky enough to live in a world where a lot of us can do our jobs with a phone and a laptop so I would encourage you to make use of these. I now continue to work from home at least once a week which just helps me manage my time and energy levels. 

Try to get enough sleep 

This point couldn’t be more important. I think we all underestimate the importance of a good nights sleep sometimes but this is crucial to your health and wellbeing as well as your performance at work. I used to think I could run off 6 – 7 hours a night and maintain that alongside all of my other commitments but eventually it catches up with you. When you’re in a recovery period, this is even more so important so I would recommend carving out a solid 8 hours or more a night to ensure you are well-rested. And listen to your body, if you find you’re getting tired more easily then make sure you’re resting up and doing less. 

Eat well 

It goes without saying but having a well-balanced nutritious diet will go a long way in helping you regain your strength to return to work. Food gives you energy and can fight off illness and disease which is important during a recovery period. I LOVE food and am a big believer that choosing the right food can change your mood, make you stronger and fuel your day. Of course, everyone’s different so find what works for you. 

Exercise 

Exercise has always been a big part of my life and I feel lost and quickly become quite groggy if I can’t fit this into my routine so you can imagine how I was after 10 weeks of no exercise. I was feeling very lethargic and struggling to get up in the mornings for a couple of weeks and I definitely think this was because I wasn’t doing any form of exercise. In my case, I still need to take it easy and ensure that I don’t overdo it so finding the right type of exercise has been key. I’ve been incorporating walking and 1 or 2 yoga or barre classes into my weekly routine and already feel so much better and find I have more energy during the week. Even if this is just a stretch in the mornings to wake you up, I think this helps.

Phase back in elements of your normal routine slowly 

If you’re anything like me then you don’t just have your day job, but lots of other commitments to fit in alongside your social life and carving out time to rest as well. To go from 0 – 100 in a matter of weeks isn’t a sensible idea so easing back into all aspects of your normal routine is important. I’ve prioritised the most important things like work and a bit of exercise and then have slowly started to introduce other commitments around this. 

It’s important to point out that everyone’s different so these tips might not all work or be possible for some people but I hope this at least provides food for thought. Embedding these things into my daily routine has certainly helped me overcome this hurdle and I’m feeling much better in myself for it. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to listen to my body and mind and if I’m feeling tired or under the weather to take some proper time to relax and recuperate. 

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