NOTE: In an effort to let others know they aren’t alone in their mask anxiety, no matter what the underlying cause, Sally Lushin has started #beyondmaskanxiety on Instagram, and it has also made it over to Facebook. She found this blog post and thought the steps could be good for helping others & also wanted people not to feel like they are the only one struggling with wearing a mask. If you want to join in, just post a selfie in your mask using #beyondmaskanxiety with either a note of encouragement or what causes your mask anxiety.
Just the thought of having to wear a mask can cause anxiety in some people. I know, because I used to not even be able to think about it without panicking. I used to have anxiety attacks over needles, or even just a visit to the doctor. Many don’t even realize it’s anxiety that is causing everything. They just know they feel like they can’t breathe.
Having to live with chronic conditions forced me to find a way to cope.
It isn’t a cure.
It doesn’t make it go away completely, but it does help to the extent that I am now able to wear a mask when it’s necessary to protect my health. It isn’t fun, but I can do it- and, ultimately, that’s what matters.
The process isn’t an overnight thing, and it isn’t for everyone.
You aren’t going to suddenly be fine wearing a mask, but I can give you some weapons to use against your anxiety. Yes, weapons, because living with anxiety, for many of us, is an ongoing battle that requires vigilance to maintain. It’s like fighting mother nature.
Think about all the measures we have in place to deal with mother nature- dams made to control the flow of water that could devastate the area it protects, and the constant maintaining of lawns, roads, buildings, etc. That’s just a couple of the many, many things we do to combat mother nature. That’s how you have to be with anxiety.
It requires constantly working on yourself to keep anxiety managed to a level where you have control. One of the most frustrating parts of anxiety, for me, was the lack of control I felt when it started acting up. I hated not being able to calm myself and get myself back to rational thinking. Anxiety makes you feel like you don’t have a say in your own mind, especially before you understand what triggers it, and where it stems from. That’s why it can be important to determine those things, then work on a plan for dealing with them.
Masks can be one of those triggers for many people. The why behind it can be different, but no matter where it stems from, it can be problematic when you have a situation where wearing a mask is needed- like when there’s a brand new virus running amok around the world, and you need to do your part to protect the vulnerable people you may encounter, and yourself.
Mask anxiety can be so bad that people believe it is inhibiting their breathing. If they have asthma, or are in a high-activity situation- it really can feel like the mask is hurting them, which raises the anxiety level even more. The fact is- there are not many conditions, that would allow someone to be out and about, that will prevent someone from wearing a mask. According to my hours and hours of research, just about any condition that would cause a problem will also have you homebound, or in a hospital setting. I’m not trying to be unsympathetic. I wanted to be fair, so I looked into the situation. Below, you’ll see screen shots where I highlighted the relevant parts of the articles from different medical professionals. I’ve also included links to four different articles supporting the use of masks.
All masks/face coverings are not equal, though. Experiments have been conducted to show how well each works. With no mask at all, germs from your mouth can reach up to 8 feet when you talk, cough, etc. The graphic I have here shows you what the results of their experiments were. The stitched cotton masks that have 2-3 layers (& usually a place for a filter) are the best at limiting your germs. They got it down to 2.5 INCHES. In comparison, a bandana only gets it down to about 3.5 FEET. There wasn’t a face shield in the experiment, but I have read in credible sources that they are at least as good as a bandana, so they are acceptable for use in place of a mask, but a mask in combination with one would give even more protection (surgeons & nurses in some facilities have used this when low on n95 rated masks.)
While regular masks don’t offer nearly the protection an N95 rated mask does, it’s not nothing. Any protection is better than none. Any minimizing of the spread helps save lives. That’s why coping with your mask anxiety is important. It’s either that, or stay home completely, if you want to be responsible. The masks cannot be viewed as a replacement for distancing, and other virus-prevention methods, such as hand-washing for 20 seconds. Those are still very much necessary. All of them.
The masks are in addition to those methods in an attempt to help save all the lives we can while our country re-opens far too soon to be safe. That’s why I’m offering you these tools against mask anxiety with these seven steps. Use them in combination with each other, and don’t expect drastic results immediately. It’s a process, but it works for many. The first two steps are to build a foundation to work with, then I will outline specific techniques for coping with wearing a mask.
**Please note: I am NOT a medical professional. This is a process that worked for me. I suggest discussing it with your mental health professional before taking any action if you have severe anxiety. They may be able to better determine whether this is a technique that you can handle.**
#1 Get a daily management routine started.
It’s the base foundation for managing any aspect of your anxiety. Many people have written about this, including myself, so there are plenty of management routines out there to choose from, or use pieces of to create something that works for you. Not everyone is the same. You may find that every aspect of a routine works for you, but there is still something lacking, or that parts of it are helpful, but others not. I encourage you to read through a few and decide which is most helpful for your personality and situation. Customize it to be what YOU need. You can read mine, and a couple of others I’ve found at the links below.
Daily Anxiety Management Routine– Written by Dida
Morning Routine as a Tool to Manage Anxiety– Redefined Narrative
How To Create an Empowered Morning Routine To Overcome Anxiety– Fully Rich Life
#2 Find & use grounding techniques.
I have successfully guided myself, and several others, through managing different aspects of anxiety using my Anxiety Cards. I originally created them to use during panic attacks, so they work well as a grounding technique for this purpose, but I also created some specifically for Mask Anxiety, too. You can find them here (completely free to access,) on my Anxiety Card page. If those won’t work for you (because people are different, it’s okay,) there are many other methods out there. I’ve listed links to some relevant articles to help you find something useful.
Battling Anxiety: Tools for Getting Your Life Back– Written by Dida
#3 Get a mask & start the process.
You want to sort of “desensitize” yourself. While it won’t make the Anxiety go away completely, it can at least help you function through it to get what you need accomplished. How slow you take this part will depend on how bad your mask anxiety is. If you can’t even touch the mask without anxiety, then you’ll need to start with just holding it. If you can already hold the mask, you’ll jump right to putting it on. Have your Anxiety Cards, or other grounding techniques, on hand, and constantly use them to talk yourself through the anxiety until you can focus somewhat. This first round, you only need to handle or wear the mask for 20-30 minutes. You want to do this somewhere in your home, and use it as a learning process to see what bothers you most so you can mentally prepare for it next time.
#4 Remind yourself of the facts.
This part of the process is something you can do both when you’re practicing with the mask, and when you aren’t, but be sure to give your mind time to rest so you don’t become obsessive. Anxiety constantly wants you to worry about problems that aren’t even real, so what you want to do, is basically use anxiety against itself, and force it to worry about the real problem- which, in this case, is that the virus can spread very easily.
The point is to make the anxiety worry more about what happens if masks AREN’T worn, rather than worrying about the mask being on. I know you’re likely thinking “If I could do that, I wouldn’t need this process,” but in my experience, repeatedly reminding yourself of why the mask is needed can slowly help to change your way of thinking, eventually making it just a bit easier to manage your anxiety while wearing the mask. Persistence is very important. You can’t just do it a few times and give up- you have to hang in there.
#5 Get extra comfortable with the mask.
After you’ve done #3 (maybe a few times, if you have severe mask anxiety,) you’re going to want to force yourself to get comfortable wearing the mask. It’s much better to do this at home, before going out where you could be exposed/expose someone else. This lets you get used to the way it feels and will often reveal other issues you need to be ready for.
Make sure the mask is on correctly (it is supposed to be as tight as possible to create a seal where no air comes out the sides- or as close as you possibly can to that,) and do your absolute best to keep it on for at least a couple of hours at a time. If you’re trying to get used to the mask because you are going to be working in one, you need to try to get to at least that length of time wearing the mask.
Yes, it will be annoying, frustrating, and probably bring on anxiety attacks, but that’s what your chosen grounding technique(s) is for- to help you get through it. It took me constantly reading my anxiety cards, working through the steps, just to leave the mask on for 30 minutes the first time, and I had to do the same during this step. There were a couple of times I broke, and removed the mask long enough to catch my breath, but I pushed through, and forced myself to do it.
This stage may need to be done multiple times for it to start helping you. You may need to start gradually and just add some time on everyday until you get up to the length of time you’ll need to be wearing the mask. It can feel like a brutal, exhausting battle, but it can work for many people. You should see subtle, gradual improvement at least the second time you go through this stage. If you do need to do this stage multiple times, make sure you are giving yourself enough time in between for your brain to rest and process. I was able to try again the next day, but others may need more time in between. If you aren’t seeing any changes at all by the time you’ve completed this stage a second time, it may very well be that this process won’t work for you, in which case I suggest trying to do some virtual counseling sessions to try to determine what could help you manage your mask anxiety.
#6 Do a “real” run, but start small.
Once you’ve managed to get through the first five stages, and managed to keep the mask on for AT LEAST the amount of time you’ll need to be out and about, you’re ready to actually go out in public for real. At this point, you should be very familiar with the anxiety that will hit while you are wearing the mask, so you know what to expect when it starts.
Keep your grounding technique handy to help you through the process. Start small by choosing somewhere that doesn’t cause even more anxiety than the mask. You don’t want your first time trying to wear the mask in public to be somewhere with tons of people and chaos happening because that will just make it even harder. If you can successfully handle a short, small outing, it will help when you go into a more anxiety-inducing situation.
#7 Time & experience.
The first couple of times you go into a hard situation with your mask won’t be all easy just because you’ve prepared, but it can help you get through what you have to do. I had to do this process over five years ago, and now, I can wear a mask, usually, with just a little twitch when it goes on and comes off, and maybe a couple while it’s on if it has to be for on for awhile. It took me a long time to get there, but every time I got through a situation, it made the next time just the tiniest bit easier. Now, I can still flip out if whatever situation I’m in gets seriously extra, and my mental health isn’t the best at the moment, but I can get through it far better and faster now that I have worked on it.
It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
I really hope you can use this process to help you be able to wear a mask in this new world we find ourselves in. It’s too important for protecting everyone. If you ever need help with any part of the process, or have any questions, you can find me on Instagram and Facebook. Feel free to message me anytime and I’ll get back with you as soon as I can.