for better mental health

Coping with going into work during coronavirus

If you have to leave your house to go into work during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, it might feel like a difficult and stressful time.

This page gives tips for taking care of your mental health and wellbeing, help with understanding difficult feelings, and ways to find support.  

This page is also available in Welsh (Cymraeg).

Who is this information for?

You may need to go into work during the coronavirus outbreak because you're on the Government's list of key workers (also known as critical workers), and you're continuing to do important work to help and support other people.

Or it may not be possible to do your job at home, and your employer has asked you to continue going into work. 

When you're busy doing important work, it might not feel possible to take care of yourself. But even doing small things for yourself can make a big difference to your mental wellbeing, and there are lots of ideas you can try.

This information is to help you cope if:

  • you have to leave your house to go into work during the coronavirus outbreak
  • you're experiencing difficult feelings about coronavirus and going to work
  • you're worried about how this may affect the people you live with or care for.

If you are working in healthcare or emergency services during the coronavirus outbreak, you may have to cope with some difficult, unique experiences.

We have a section of specific support and guidance for healthcare and emergency services, in addition to the other information on this page.

Understanding difficult feelings

If you are going into work during the coronavirus outbreak, you might experience some difficult feelings. These may be new feelings, or things you've experienced in the past.

These feelings might be hard to deal with if the people around you don't share your experiences of going into work. Or they might have different reactions to similar experiences.

There is no right or wrong way to feel or react to your situation. But these are some common feelings that you might experience during this time:

You might feel stressed about going into work during the coronavirus outbreak. This may feel particularly stressful if you come into contact with a lot of people, including those who may have coronavirus.

This may be on top of stress you already felt because of the outbreak. For example, if you have more work to do or you are working longer hours than you normally would. Or if you feel uncertain about keeping your job or worried about money.

If you start to feel overwhelmed by stress, it may lead to mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Or it could make existing mental health problems worse.

You might feel some of the effects of stress right away, but other effects could take longer to notice, including after the stressful event has ended.

See our tips on taking care of your mental wellbeing for ways to help yourself cope. Or read our pages on stress for more information.

You may experience anxiety if you are going into work during the coronavirus outbreak. This might be because you are worried about your own health or the health of those around you, including those who you care for or live with.

You might feel even more anxious if your job involves working with people who have coronavirus or coming into contact with people who may be ill.

And you may have other worries related to coronavirus, such as losing your job or problems with money.

See our tips on taking care of your mental wellbeing for ways to help yourself cope. Or read our pages on anxiety and panic attacks for more information, including tips for managing panic attacks.

"We're worried about being more likely to catch the virus as we are having to expose ourselves a lot more… Everyone is worried about spreading the virus unintentionally to people they work with."

You may feel guilty about going into work during the coronavirus outbreak. This could be because:

  • you're worried about spreading coronavirus to the people around you
  • you have to take your children to school or nursery while other families are staying at home
  • you're worried about whether you're doing enough, especially during times that you're not working.

You may also feel guilty if it feels like your response to the situation is different to those around you. For example, working under a lot of pressure might make you feel stressed, while your colleagues may seem motivated.

But we all react to difficult situations in different ways, so it's important to be kind to yourself.

See our tips on taking care of your mental wellbeing for ways to help yourself cope.

Going into work during the coronavirus outbreak might make you feel angry. This may be because:

  • you have to keep working in an environment where you may catch coronavirus
  • you don't feel supported by your employer to do your job
  • you don't have the right equipment to do your job
  • there are a lot of major changes in your life, including at work.

When most of us experience anger, it doesn't have a big effect on our lives. Anger only becomes a problem when it gets out of control and harms you or the people around you.

If you struggle with anger, learning healthy ways to deal with it can help your mental and physical health.

See our tips on taking care of your mental wellbeing for ways to help yourself cope. Or read our pages on anger for information.

Taking care of your mental health and wellbeing

If you are going into work during the coronavirus outbreak, you may find it hard to take care of your mental wellbeing.

This may feel very difficult if you come into contact with people who may have coronavirus when you go to work. Or you may be struggling if you are working long hours or under a lot of pressure.

And even though you are going into work, you may have people in your life who you can't see for now because they are staying at home.

These are some tips to help support your wellbeing:

  • Talk to someone you trust. Telling someone about how you feel can make a difference, even if they can't change what you're experiencing. You may want to talk to a colleague who understands your experiences. Or you may prefer to speak to someone outside of work, for a different view on things.
  • Try to make plans to video chat with people or groups you'd normally see in person, when possible. You can also arrange phone calls or send instant messages or texts. Keep in touch with others as much or as little as you find helpful.
  • You could join a peer support community. Mind runs an online peer support community called Elefriends, where you can share your experiences and hear from others.
  • If you're going online more than usual or seeking peer support on the internet, it's important to look after your online wellbeing. See our pages about online mental health for more information.

If you are struggling with your mental health, it is ok to ask for help. There is often support available inside and outside work. We have listed some of the common support options below.

If you work in healthcare or emergency services, we also have information about specific support options for your area of work.

Support at work

Some employers offer support to their employees for their mental health. If you have an employer, try to find out if they offer any specialist support services, such as:

  • an Employee Assistance Programme helpline
  • counselling services
  • peer support groups
  • Trauma Risk Management (TRiM), if you work in emergency services.

Helplines and listening services

You could talk to a helpline or listening service about your mental health:

  • Call Mind's Infoline for information and signposting to support your mental health.
  • If you don't feel you can keep yourself safe right now, call 999 for an ambulance.
  • If you want to talk to someone at any time about how you're feeling, you can call Samaritans on 116 123.

Supporting someone outside work

Supporting or caring for someone outside work might feel difficult during the coronavirus outbreak.

It may feel especially hard if you're working more than you usually would, or if you're worried about passing on coronavirus to someone who may become ill.

Carers UK has information about providing care during the coronavirus outbreak. Our information on how to cope when supporting someone else may also help.

  • Stay connected with current events, but be careful where you get news and health information from.
  • For up-to-date advice in English, see the NHS coronavirus webpage and UK government coronavirus webpages.
  • For up-to-date advice in Welsh, see the Public Health Wales coronavirus webpage and Welsh Government coronavirus webpage.
  • If news stories make you feel anxious or confused, think about switching off or limiting what you look at for a while.
  • Social media could help you stay in touch with people, but might also make you feel anxious including if people are sharing news stories or posting about their worries. Consider taking a break or limiting how you use social media. You might decide to view particular groups or pages but not scroll through timelines or newsfeeds. See our pages about online mental health for more information.

It may feel very difficult to make time for yourself while you are working, particularly if you are working more than usual or if you are under a lot of pressure. You may feel guilty about relaxing while your colleagues are working.

But making time for yourself is important for your physical and mental health. If you use the time when you're not working to take care of yourself, this can help you keep going when you are at work. This can be time spent at home, or if you are on a break at work.  

Here are some ideas you could try:

Find ways to relax

If you're finding it difficult to switch off from work, you might find our page on relaxation helpful. This includes tips and exercises to help you relax, which you can try at home or if you are taking a break at work.

Do something you enjoy

It may feel unrealistic to make time to do something you enjoy. But having something else to focus on outside work can help you stay well. This could be something small, like having a video chat with a friend, having a bath or listening to music.

Try mindfulness

Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment, using techniques like meditation, breathing exercises and yoga. It has been shown to help people become more aware of their thoughts and feelings. This means that instead of being overwhelmed by your feelings, it becomes easier to manage them.

See our pages on mindfulness for more information, including some mindfulness exercises that you could try.

"I'm trying to make time to try new things that I've always wanted to do but never had time for. And spending more time on things I enjoy. It gives me…something to focus on and forget about everything else, even just for a short while."

Try to build physical activity into your daily routine, if possible. Most of us don't have exercise equipment like treadmills where we live, but there are still activities you can do. Exercising indoors can be simple and there are options for most ages and abilities, such as:

  • cleaning your home
  • dancing to music
  • going up and down stairs
  • seated exercises
  • online exercise workouts that you can follow
  • sitting less – if you notice you've been sitting down for a long time, just getting up or changing position can help.

It may feel difficult to take care of your physical health if you're feeling busy or stressed. But looking after your physical health can have a big effect on your mental health. And there are many small changes you can try to take care of your overall wellbeing:

Improve your sleep

  • Try and establish a routine around bed time, to help set a regular sleeping pattern.
  • Give yourself some tech-free time before sleep, avoiding bright screens.
  • Practice a relaxation exercise before you go to bed.
  • Make sure where you sleep is as comfortable as possible.

Eat well and stay hydrated

  • Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can help your mood and energy levels.
  • Drink water regularly. Drinking enough water is important for your mental and physical health.
  • Try to get your 5-a-day. Vegetables and fruit contain a lot of the minerals, vitamins and fibre we need to keep us physically and mentally healthy.
  • Manage your caffeine intake. Caffeine can give you a quick burst of energy, but then may make you feel anxious and depressed, or disturb your sleep.

See our pages on sleep problems and food and mood for information and tips that might help.

Practical guidance for going into work

You may be worried about how coronavirus is going to affect your work. Or you may have questions about what to do if you need to take sick leave or care for children or others who you support.

These are some ways to find practical guidance and support about going into work during the coronavirus outbreak:

If you are still going into work during the coronavirus, you may have questions and worries about your rights. For example, this may include your right to:

  • sick pay
  • take time off
  • access childcare.

It might seem difficult and confusing to find out about your rights during this time. But there are ways to find guidance and support:

Government guidance is that anybody who can work from home should do so during the coronavirus outbreak. But for some of us, this isn't possible. This includes key (critical) workers going into work to continue doing important jobs.

If you are still going into work, you may feel anxious about having to do this. You may feel very worried if you travel using public transport or work in close contact with other people.

The UK and Welsh Governments have guidance explaining how to help you and your colleagues stay healthy. This includes guidance on social distancing (staying a certain distance away from other people) while going to work:

If you or someone you live with has symptoms of coronavirus, you should not go into work. If this happens, the NHS and Public Health Wales have information about 'self-isolating' at home:

Support for people working in healthcare and emergency services

If you work in healthcare or emergency services, for example:

  • in a hospital
  • in a pharmacy or doctor's surgery
  • in a care home
  • in the police and ambulance services

you may be experiencing a lot of pressure during the coronavirus outbreak and working longer hours than you normally would. You may also be very anxious about getting coronavirus or passing it on to others around you.

You may find it helpful to read our information on understanding difficult feelings during the coronavirus outbreak, and our advice on taking care of your mental wellbeing.

But there are some specific, difficult experiences and emotions in this area of work that you may also affect your mental wellbeing:

If you are working in healthcare or emergency services during the coronavirus outbreak, you may have experiences that cause some very difficult emotions. For example, you may experience:

  • Anxiety about coming into contact with people who have coronavirus. You may worry about yourself, but also those who you care for or live with. And you may be concerned about accessing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), if you need this to do your job safely.
  • High levels of stress and pressure at work. This may be because you are working very long hours to help as many people as possible, especially if you have colleagues who are off sick. You may also have to make lots of tough decisions, which is difficult when you feel stressed or tired.
  • Anxiety about doing extra, unfamiliar tasks that aren't part of your normal work, or even working in a completely new job when you weren't expecting to.
  • Stress about working with the public and enforcing new measures to control coronavirus, if you are in the police.

See our information below about where to get help for these experiences and emotions.

Your job may involve being around or caring for people who are very unwell. This may include providing end-of-life care. You might lose people you are caring for, or lose colleagues or others in your life.

Working in this environment may be distressing or traumatic, and it is natural to feel lots of difficult emotions. For example:

  • Sadness or depression about what has happened.
  • Shock and numbness. This may happen as your mind tries to protect you from pain or feeling overwhelmed.
  • Panic and confusion. You may feel overwhelmed and wonder why you are experiencing these events. You may also worry about how you will cope.
  • Anger or hostility. You may feel angry or frustrated and want to find something or someone to blame for what's happening, to help make sense of it.

It might feel difficult to focus on your mental health when you're dealing with so many other things. But you can ask for help whenever you need it. This could be right now or in the future, or both.

See our information below about where to get help for these experiences and emotions.

"I feel that we have to be stoic, and that because we're working in healthcare we should be willing and able to put ourselves at risk and deal with the pressure."

There are also lots of ways to find support and guidance if you are working in healthcare and emergency services during the coronavirus outbreak. These are some options which may help:

Mental health and wellbeing

Practical support and information

Mental health and wellbeing

Practical support and information

If you are struggling and need to talk to someone urgently:

  • If you don't feel you can keep yourself safe right now, call 999 for an ambulance.
  • If you want to talk to someone at any time about how you're feeling, you can call Samaritans on 116 123.
  • Shout also offers a free 24/7 crisis text service. Text SHOUT to 85258.

This information was last updated on 9 April 2020. 

  • The content reflects the best advice we have at this time. We will update it as necessary, particularly if there are changes to public health guidance.
  • If you are re-using this content elsewhere, please link to the page directly rather than quoting or summarising what we've said, to prevent information that may be outdated from being shared.
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