COVID-19: Anxieties about going back to work if you have a visible difference

Going back to work during the COVID-19 pandemic can cause particular anxieties if you have a visible difference. We share some guidance to help you.

If you have a visible difference, the thought of going back to work after an interruption due to coronavirus (COVID-19) may feel daunting.

You may be anxious about working face-to-face once again with your colleagues, changes to the working environment, the need to wear a face covering on public transport and other things. You may have been on furlough and re-entering work either at home or on site. This can bring its own challenges.

On this page, we share some advice on going back to work if you have a visible difference.

Work and COVID-19

National lockdown, local lockdowns, tier systems… The UK response to COVID-19 continues to evolve rapidly and guidance can vary region to region. For the latest information about restrictions in your area, please visit gov.uk/coronavirus.

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on work and it’s understandable that you might feel worried about what this will mean for you both short- and long-term. Perhaps you’re finding it difficult to deal with the uncertainty of frequently changing restrictions. You might be worried about a return to your physical workplace. You might be anxious about furlough arrangements or about the possibility of redundancy. If you’re out of work, you may feel disheartened at the prospect of applying for positions in the current job market, or you may be struggling to navigate the benefits system.

If you have a visible difference, you may have mixed feelings about this and feel you also have additional challenges to face because of how you look. The thought of going back to work again may feel daunting.

Returning to a place of work

What are the challenges?

Being in the workplace

You may face anxieties about going back to work after a long period at home for the following reasons:

  • For many people with a visible difference, working from home or being on furlough has brought welcome relief in some ways. You may have felt safe and secure in your home, away from a sense of public scrutiny or dealing with other people’s reactions.
  • The thought of returning to a space with work colleagues or sitting face-to-face in a meeting may feel challenging for you. You may worry you will feel awkward or anxious in what might be a new type of working environment with social distancing measures and protective equipment. You may feel self-conscious or as though you’ve lost some confidence in handling face-to-face work situations or going out and getting coffee or lunch.

Self-isolating or shielding

Alternatively, you may worry that you are not able to go back to work with colleagues as you need to continue to self-isolate or shield.

Commuting

If you need to take public transport to get to work, this could:

  • Raise anxieties around staying healthy and social distancing, especially if it becomes crowded and you have previously shielded or self-isolated.
  • Rekindle memories of times when you felt less confident and self-conscious about going on public transport due to your visible difference.

Wearing a mask or face covering

Some people with a visible difference may find this challenging, while others may find it comforting – and some may feel conflicted, experiencing both these feelings. You can read more about this on our page about masks and face coverings.

If your condition, mark or scar prevents you from wearing a mask or face covering in the advised way, you may feel anxious that people might notice or comment on this. You may be worried about the physical impact wearing a mask or face covering has on your condition. Some people are exempt from wearing a face covering. To find out more, read the government guidance.

What can I do?

Take a gentle approach

Try not to be too hard on yourself and consider what going back to work with the least amount of anxiety might look like for you. For example, it may help to go back in one or two days a week to start off with, start work earlier or finish a bit later. Arrange to have a conversation with your boss to see if your return can be arranged in a more gradual and gentle way.

Consider the working day

For many of us, going back to work is likely to look different. Depending on where you work, systems may be set up to ensure fewer people are physically in the workplace and staff are more socially distanced. Some organisations may create shifts or staggered worktimes split between being in the workplace and home working and might continue some remote working and video-calling, which could come with its own challenges. Think about the working arrangements that may work best for you and arrange to discuss this with your manager.

Speak to a trusted colleague

If you are feeling anxious, it may be worth explaining this to a colleague you are close to and asking them to support you when you need it. For example, if you want to get a coffee, they could go out with you or if you are due to be in a meeting together, you could both prepare in advance.

Prepare yourself

It may help to write down the things that make you feel anxious in the workplace – and then consider how you have dealt with these things before to remind yourself that you can do this. Think about your inner resources, your positive qualities and the tips or techniques that have helped you before. You might like to talk all this through with a friend or family member.

Plan your commute

Plan your route carefully and leave extra time. If you are taking public transport, think about the least anxiety-provoking route for you. Consider how other people might react and how you may cope with this. If possible, you may consider travelling with a colleague, friend or family-member. If you’re driving, ensure you have enough petrol, so you don’t need to make an extra stop.

Plan the night before

Try considering what is coming up the next day in advance. It may help to think about what you might wear, including whether you’ll need to wear a face covering – and how this may make you feel. Plan for the key things coming up that day and rehearse your part in them. Consider where you might get coffee or lunch. You may find it helpful to look at our advice on improving your conversation skills. Planning ahead may give you a sense of control and increase your confidence. Find some relaxing things to do the night before to help manage any worry and anxiety.

If you are not working

What are the challenges?

Furlough

In addition to the challenges of being on furlough and away from the structure and purpose of work, you may worry about what this means for you in the future. You may be being paid less money. You may have worries about your role being made redundant once the furlough scheme stops and this may make you feel very anxious. You may be back part-time on flexible furlough and worry that this may become permanent.

Redundancy or being out of work

You may have financial worries for yourself and your family and worries about the uncertainties of getting another job. Being made redundant or being out of work may impact your confidence, especially if you have faced difficulties in getting a job before or feel you may have been discriminated against due to your visible difference.

Fears about the recruitment process

You may be worried about having to apply for jobs and go through interviews, either in person or online. These feel daunting for most people – but especially for those with a visible difference. You may feel anxious about being out in public, travelling, how others may react to you and meeting other people.

What can I do?

Coping with negative thoughts

Sometimes our thoughts can spiral out of control and constantly take us to the worst scenario. Try reading using our managing negative thoughts tool to help with this.

Prepare yourself

Depending on which stage you are at, take a look at our pages about various aspects of working life including building confidence, applying for jobs and interviews. You can view our section on working with a visible difference here.

Try our audio relaxation

This audio relaxation is especially designed to help people with visible differences manage some of the anxieties around the easing of lockdown:

External resources

Here are some other organisations you may find useful:

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