BDD and Work

Do you find yourself struggling to pay attention at work? Are you so distracted by concerns about your appearance that things take much longer than they should to get done, or don’t get done at all? Have you started doing rituals to ease your anxiety, such as constantly getting up to check the bathroom mirror, comparing your appearance to others, or asking friends and coworkers over and over again if you look okay?

You may even notice yourself avoiding work and your job duties altogether because you are so worried about what your boss and coworkers think of your appearance. Your family, friends, and coworkers may tell you “You look great!” but you think, “They just feel sorry for me” or “If they saw what I really looked like, they would never say that.” These thoughts and routines can interfere with your daily life at work, causing you to be late for your job, ignore promotion opportunities, and feel isolated from your coworkers.

While some concern over your looks is normal for teenagers and young adults, these concerns can go too far. If you spend more than an hour each day thinking about your appearance, worrying over “flawed” or “hideous” parts of your body, and these thoughts cause you a lot of emotional distress or get in the way of your day-to-day functioning, then you may have body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).

How can BDD affect my work?

Having BDD can negatively affect your work performance, your relationships and interactions with your coworkers and supervisors, as well as your ability to perform your everyday job duties. In fact, a substantial proportion of people with BDD are unable to hold a job or go to work because of BDD symptoms. If you do have a job, BDD symptoms can dominate your life while at work, making it difficult for you to focus on anything else. This can lead to showing up late to work (or missing work altogether), performing job duties poorly, and having trouble concentrating. Many individuals with BDD shy away from jobs they are qualified for and might really enjoy, and you might instead be drawn to a job that keeps you out of the spotlight, like working from home or at night. Promotions that would increase responsibility and interactions with others are often passed up.

In one study, 80% of individuals with BDD reported impairment in their ability to function at work. [1] Within this group of young and older adults, 22.7% received disability pay, while 39% reported not going to work at all in the last month because of their appearance concerns. [2] BDD symptoms can be even more severe for teens, who tend to exhibit higher levels of distress and impairment. [3], [4]

What can I do to keep BDD from getting in the way of my work?

If you have BDD, remember that you are not “vain” or “crazy.” Other people your age are struggling with this disorder too. There are several ways to obtain help so that you can feel better and focus on your work instead of on your appearance. Effective treatment options for BDD include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or medication (a type of medication known as serotonin reuptake inhibitors). Help is available and you are not alone in this.

By Jennifer Greenberg, PsyD


  • [1] Didie ER, Menard W, Stern AP, Phillips KA. Occupational functioning and impairment in adults with body dysmorphic disorder. Comprehensive Psychiatry 2008; 49:561-569.
  • [2] Didie ER, Menard W, Stern AP, Phillips KA. Occupational functioning and impairment in adults with body dysmorphic disorder. Comprehensive Psychiatry 2008; 49:561-569.
  • [3] Greenberg JL, Markowitz S, Petronko MR, Taylor CE, Wilhelm S, Wilson GT. Cognitive behavioral therapy for adolescent body dysmorphic disorder. Cogn Behav Pract 2010; 17(3):248-258.
  • [4] Phillips KA, Didie ER, Menard W, Pagano ME, Fay C, Weisberg RB. Clinical features of body dysmorphic disorder in adolescents and adults. Psychiatry Res. 2006;141:305–314.