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COVID-19: Visible difference and anxiety about returning to normal

It can be hard to adjust to loosening restrictions. We share some guidance to help you manage anxiety about returning to "normal" as the pandemic eases.

As we move though the pandemic, you may feel like you are the only person who has reservations about restrictions being lifted and anxiety about returning to “normal” after coronavirus (COVID-19). Please be reassured that you aren’t.

COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns created challenging and stressful times for many. But we also know that, for lots of people with visible differences or disfigurements, it provided a welcome relief from the feeling that people are continually judging you by the way you look.

On this page, we explore some of the ways you can manage anxiety about returning to “normal” after COVID-19.

Having mixed feelings about going back to “normal”

When restrictions were imposed, you may have missed friends, colleagues, teachers and the routine of going to work or study.

However, you may also have felt that it is less stressful than having to attend school or university lectures, go to work or be out in public. Maybe you felt safe and secure in your home, away from a sense that people are scrutinising your appearance.

What are the challenges?

There are lots of reasons why you might feel anxious about life going back to “normal”:

  • If your visible difference makes you feel shy, introverted or socially anxious, you may have enjoyed being cocooned at home. The thought of going back into the world again may feel daunting – like leaving your comfort zone. You may worry that you’ve forgotten how to meet new people or be in face-to-face social situations. It’s like a muscle you haven’t exercised in a while.
  • Living under restrictions may have rekindled memories of times when you felt less confident and more self-conscious about going outside due to your visible difference. Old anxieties may resurface and you may worry about facing these difficulties again.
  • If you experience staring, questions or comments in your day-to-day life, living under restrictions may have presented a welcome break and a relief from dealing with other people’s reactions. You may feel you’ve lost confidence in handling these situations or like you’ve lost progress or momentum with things you worked hard on.
  • If you find your visible difference affects you at school or work, you may prefer doing these remotely, with the option to turn off your camera. You may be worried at the thought of times when you might need to go to meetings or see colleagues face-to-face.
  • If life is ordinarily stressful, hectic and fast-paced, you may have relished the opportunity to slow down and refocus on what’s important. It may feel hard to think about picking up the fast pace again.
  • You may be facing additional practical or health issues in going back to “normal” life. You may be anxious about risks around commuting to work, uni or school.
  • You may have got used to wearing a mask or face covering in public. This may cause anxieties about having to “reveal” your visible difference now the mask mandate has been dropped. Or perhaps you continue to wear a face covering and feel self-conscious about this because many people choose not to.
  • In a time when people are worrying a lot about their health, you may be anxious about being viewed as infectious in some way.
  • You may be worried as hospital appointments or treatments have been cancelled or delayed.
  • You may have been shielding and feel pressured to go back to “normal”, even though you still have concerns about your health or COVID-19.
  • You may also be feeling guilt or shame because you’ve found some enjoyment at a time during where people are suffering. This might make it harder to explain your concerns to others, leaving you feeling isolated or worried.

Your concerns are valid

These have been “unprecedented times”. Thinking about what this means can be a helpful way to make peace with how you feel.

“Unprecedented” means something that has never happened before. For better or worse, human beings are learning machines that look for patterns in events to work out how to feel and behave. This situation has presented many new circumstances – which change frequently.

There is no “right way” to respond. Some people have struggled, some people have thrived – and neither reaction is right or wrong. People face different challenges as things change. Each of us has our own experience of the situation.

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