After lockdown: worries about work

As lockdown restrictions are eased across the UK, this may raise concerns about returning to ‘normal’. People’s attention may turn towards work issues, including physically returning to their workplace, finding new employment, seeking Universal Credit, or worrying about the future in terms of furlough arrangements or even potential redundancy.

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 into the world of work again may feel daunting.

Returning to a place of work

What are the challenges?

Being in the workplace. You may face anxieties about returning to the workplace after a long period at home for the following reasons:

  • For many people with a visible difference, lockdown has brought welcome relief; 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 being in 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 return to the office 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 masks. Some people with a visible difference may find this challenging, however others may find it comforting – and some may feel conflicted, experiencing both these feelings about mask wearing.

  • The ability to wear a mask along with many others may feel equalising and mean you feel less fear or worry in ‘facing’ the world… and in reality, if staring, comments or questions are something you experience regularly in public, this is likely to be reduced.
  • However, the need to ‘hide-away’ or feeling this is imposed may feel negative for you, especially if you have worked hard on coming to terms with your appearance – and are rightly proud of yourself for this. Wearing a mask may cause a loss of your self-identity.
  • For some people, wearing a mask may revive anxieties about people behaving as though they are contagious or something to shy away from – feeding into old feelings and worries you have already dealt with or learned to cope with.
  • On the other hand, if you feel safer behind a mask, this may delay some of the social anxiety you experience until people stop wearing masks in the future,  meaning your return to ‘reality’ may be delayed or compromised.
  • If your condition, mark or scar prevents you from wearing a mask in the advised way, you may feel anxious that people might notice or comment on this.

What can I do?

Take a gentle approach. Try not to be too hard on yourself and consider what a return with the least amount of anxiety might look like for you. For example, it may help to go back one or two days a week to start off with, or to 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, returning 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 work times split between being in the workplace and home working, and might continue some remote working and video calling which might have its own challenges. Think about the working arrangements that may work for you best 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 and 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, or a 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 mask – and how this may make you feel. Plan for the key things coming up that day and rehearse your part in them; or consider where you might get coffee or lunch. You may find it helpful to look at our Talking Confidently Tool. 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?

Continuation of 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.

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. These feel daunting for most people – but especially for those with a visible difference and you may feel anxious about being out in public, travelling, or 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 our factsheet on Managing Negative Thoughts to help with this.

Prepare yourself. Depending on which stage you are at, take a look at our factsheet series about various aspects of working life including building confidence, applying for jobs and interviews.

Applying for jobs

Read

Going to a job interview

Read

Building confidence to work

Read

Preparing for a job interview

Read

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