Getting back to work after being sick

Feb 23, 2024

In an ideal world, when we’re focused on getting well after an illness, our work (and our laundry!) would magically get done in the background. But since we don’t live in that world… what can you do when you’re recovering from an illness like Covid-19, the flu, or even a bad cold?

If you’re reading this, you might be lacking energy or the ability to focus. You might even still be experiencing aches and pains and other symptoms, but still look well enough to everyone else. On top of that, you could also be feeling the depression or anxiety that can linger after being very sick. Unfortunately, that is not a great recipe for diving back into our work.

Although rest is the most important thing to do after being sick, most of us have responsibilities — both at home and at work — that we have to get back to a bit sooner than we’d like. We may also carry guilt or shame for not being at our best.

While we want you to drop some of the guilt and shame around being “less productive” than you might otherwise be, it can also feel really good to start moving your brain, heart, and body again.

So when you’re feeling ready to ease back into work, here are some gentle, compassionate, and realistic approaches to getting stuff done after an illness (inspired by our own experiences recovering from Covid this year…).

Let the people who rely on you know where you’re at.

With all of the pressure we’re under at work, it can be tempting to act like we’re back at 100% when we’re really not. In our culture, it can feel shameful and risky not to be operating at peak condition at work. And it also doesn’t feel good to leave our coworkers hanging when they’re relying on us.

But that’s why we think honesty is the best policy — we suggest letting the people you work with (or the people who rely on you) know where you’re at, so you can all move forward in a realistic and compassionate manner.

Just remember, everyone knows what it’s like to be returning to work after being sick. It can throw your whole life into disarray, not just what you’re doing at work. Being honest about your capacities, and your plans to take small steps now so that you can heal more fully in the long-term, can feel incredibly relieving. It also helps your coworkers plan and manage their needs and expectations accordingly.

Especially if you look “just fine” on the outside because your most visible symptoms have gone away, letting people into your world (and taking the risk to be a little vulnerable) is best for everyone involved.

Pay attention, listen to your body, and be willing to reassess.

The time just after being sick is critical for your healing. You could really put your future self at risk by pushing yourself too hard right now. As our focused host Suliel likes to say: “if you don’t choose to take a break now, your body will choose to take one for you… and it probably won’t be at a very convenient time.”

That’s why it’s important to learn how to be more mindful of your body and what it is telling you. Now is not the time to push through when you get signals from your body that you’ve done a bit too much. Now is the time to get in tune with yourself and really listen.

If you notice yourself being out of breath, take some time to pause and prioritize short breathing exercises. If you’re tired and able to nap, do it. Now isn’t the time to force yourself back into grind mode — drop any guilt you may have, and instead, thank yourself for making small choices that are going to help you feel your best in the longer term.

Be willing to experiment gently, learn, and change your approach from day-to-day — figuring out how to listen to your honest limitations is incredibly courageous and wise.

Make your mental health a priority.

Sickness can cause depression and anxiety, especially if you had to isolate from others. And unfortunately, existing life stressors don’t stop just because you got sick.

You’ve been through a lot, and you may carry a low mood with you for a little while. Instead of pressuring yourself to snap out of it, you can learn to work with yourself. Maybe for a short while, you can prioritize tasks that bring you energy and joy over those that you know from experience to be draining.

When you’re just getting back to work, you’re probably feeling a little behind and won’t be able to do it all anyway — tasks that make you feel good will help you build yourself back up for everything else. You might need to speak with your manager or coworkers if you use this strategy to get back up to speed (feel free to send them this blog post if you need backup 😉).

We also suggest taking longer breaks that are actually meaningful — try going for a long walk and choosing to walk down streets you’ve never walked down before, listening to that music your friend recommended that you just haven’t gotten to yet, or taking a chance on that random new drink at the grocery store. Small things that can bring a little curiosity and vitality into your life can be extremely effective.

Most important of all: know that you’re not alone. Recent research suggests that after Covid, around 35% of people experience depressive symptoms that increase fatigue and impact neurocognitive functioning, sleep, and quality of life.

Most people find themselves in a better state after some time, but it can take a little while. This is an unfortunate reality of being sick, and our hearts are with you if you are feeling low. We know from experience how hard it can be to get back into the swing of things after you’ve spent so much energy just trying to feel better.

Please be gentle with yourself, and with each other, as we all learn to better balance our responsibilities with what’s most important: taking care of ourselves and each other.

Thanks for reading,


Psst… Need a little support getting back into the flow of life after an illness? We can help you rebuild your morning routine, build momentum, and get stuff done ☺️