Today I am going to be talking about mask anxiety. I want to help people understand why some do feel anxiety with a mask on, and also share some tips for easing the anxiety for those that have it.
I want to preface this post by saying I 100% believe in wearing masks. I think it is very important for public safety and I want to remind everyone that we really and truly are all in this together. It’s us, the human race, against this virus.
And honestly, all it should take is this picture to understand why they are important in helping to stop the spread. (Just saying!)
Also, just a small side rant. There seems to be an overlap in the people who are anti-mask and the people who want a breastfeeding baby to have their face covered when eating. They feel their freedom is being taken away by being asked to wear a mask, but think it’s perfectly acceptable to berate a mother who is trying to feed her baby for not covering up. There’s a huge difference between these 2 scenarios. One is a baby who is eating, and the other is a person who could have a deadly virus they aren’t aware of yet, spreading their germs.
Now, are masks comfortable? Not really, especially if you’re not used to wearing them all the time (side note, doctors/surgeons are able to wear them for hours and hours at a time.)
People also found seatbelts uncomfortable at first too. There was a lot of pushback on them the same as there are for masks now. But today, seatbelts save many many lives every single day, and that is what these masks can do too. The unfortunate difference here is that you wear a seatbelt to protect yourself. You are protecting your 1 life by buckling yourself up. The mask, however, is worn to protect others. It protects every single person you come across when you are out and about. One person not wearing a mask who has the virus will spread their germs onto surfaces a person with a mask may touch with their hands, or items at a store a person with a mask might take home with them. The mask isn’t to protect you, it’s to protect others. Please please do your part to help minimize the spread.
Lets talk about the anxiety masks do create
If you have anxiety about masks, please know, you’re not alone, and you are not weak. Your feelings are valid, and it’s understandable that during times like this, anxiety, in general, is heightened. But also please know, there are things you can do to help yourself cope and feel less uncomfortable in a mask. For anyone powering through their anxiety, and doing what they can to wear a mask and keep people safe, I applaud you and recognize that it’s really not easy for you.
For me personally, my issue with the mask is the way breathing feels. I know this is a common complaint, and I am definitely not alone here. When I am feeling anxious, one of my coping tools is to take slow deep breaths, but in a mask, the deep breathing doesn’t feel as calming as it normally does. Not having this technique available to me has made me worry about “what if” I start feeling anxious.
My first time out to a store after quarantine started was very challenging for me. I became dizzy, lightheaded and my vision went a little blurry. Not being able to do my deep breaths made it very difficult, and knowing I cannot take this mask off made me feel trapped.
Anxiety can be felt in numerous ways, depending on each individual person.
- Wearing a mask can make a claustrophobic person feel similar to being in an enclosed space.
- They can also make you feel hot, which can trigger anxiety as well. For me, the back of my neck gets really hot when a panic attack is about to happen.
- And as I mentioned, the difficulty breathing can trigger a fight-or-flight response.
There is also anxiety around what the mask represents. Everyone’s face has a reminder on it that there is a global pandemic going on. The fear of getting ill, or losing a loved one is hard to ignore when you are constantly seeing people in masks, and wearing one yourself.
So what can you do?
In order to fight something, you first have to accept that it’s there. Identify that you are experiencing anxiety and that it is a normal response. From there, you are able to use your coping strategies to help decrease it.
I know I tend to preach exposure therapy a lot. It’s been such a successful method for me in many areas of anxiety. You want to desensitize yourself to the mask. When you are at home, in a place you are most comfortable, try wearing your mask for short periods of time. Get used to how it feels on your face and how it feels to breathe in it.
Find a Comfortable Mask
Not all masks are made the same, try on a few different types and different materials to see which one feels the best for you.
Get a Good Looking Mask
If you find a mask with a print that you love or in a colour that can match an outfit, it can help you to think of it more like an accessory than PPE (personal protective equipment).
I know I’ve shared this tip for combating anxiety somewhere in the past. I first discovered this trick a few years ago when a nurse suggested I chew gum while getting a vaccine. (needles have always been my biggest anxiety trigger) The act of chewing sends a message to your brain that you are eating, and therefore safe. I was skeptical, but it really worked! It was the first time in years that I didn’t faint after having a shot! So after my first outing caused a mini panic attack, I started chewing gum while wearing my mask in public, and it has really worked.
Remind Yourself That Masks Are Safe
It’s unfortunate the amount of misinformation that is being spread by “anti-maskers.” Although, I think we should call them “anti-science” or “anti-common sense” but that’s just me! There is literally no scientifically backed evidence that face masks are dangerous for the general healthy population. These masks are not designed to be air-tight, they still allow for adequate air-flow, and there have been studies, as well as many doctors all over social media, that have proven that there are no significant changes in oxygen levels when a mask is worn. As I said earlier, there is no way doctors could wear them for as long as they do on a daily basis if this were the case.
Self-talk has such a large impact on our minds. Whenever you find yourself thinking negatively or anxiously, have a phrase or affirmation ready to say back. You can tell yourself things such as “I am safe” – “This will pass” – “I can do this.” Whatever works best for you.
Those are all my suggestions for reducing mask anxiety. I hope they can help someone out there who really wants to wear a mask but is struggling. It’s going to be tough and uncomfortable, but we can do this!
If you have any other suggestions or stories about mask anxiety, I’d love to hear them in the comments below!