Mask Anxiety

By - karengray
08.06.20 12:01 PM

The research and recommendations around the benefits of wearing masks continues to evolve. The current consensus is that masks help to prevent the spread of this novel corona virus, and with many states and towns requiring the use of masks when physical distancing is not possible, some people find themselves struggling to manage their anxiety.

Why Is Wearing a Mask Uncomfortable?

The answer is a combination of both psychological and physiological responses. Mentally, masks can trigger feelings of vulnerability, uncertainty, and fear. Physically, masks can bring on rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, and breaking out in a sweat. There are some very real reasons why wearing a mask can make some people feel more anxious, and it has a lot to do with how our subconscious minds interpret the experience.

For many, masks are an added stressor of the pandemic and a physical reminder of how much our lives have changed and become socially detached from each other.

Wearing a mask can make it feel like you are in a closed space, triggering feelings of claustrophobia. Having something unfamiliar to your face can be very uncomfortable. Fortunately for many, this effect wears off as they become used to wearing a mask.

The area of the face covered by the face mask is sensitive to heat, and an increase of temperature in the facial skin covered by a mask can significantly influence the thermal sensations of the whole body, making one feel hot. Our subconscious mind can misinterpret the increase in body temperature as a sign of danger, and cause us to feel anxious until we remove the mask.

There is also the perception of airflow resistance, giving the wearer the feeling of having difficulty breathing. Even though the mind and body are getting plenty of oxygen, this sensation can provoke a flight-or-fight response that can stimulate anxiety.

Coping Mechanisms

So, since it looks like we’ll be a mask-wearing society for a while, let’s talk about some ways that you can decrease anxiety and feel more comfortable.

I’ve included two helpful tools. Abdominal Breathing to Decrease Anxiety is an easy to use breathing pattern that uses your body’s natural rhythm to naturally and quickly decrease stress. “15 Minute De-Stress” is a hypnosis program that lowers your current stress and changes the way you respond to stressful situations.

Reframing - Challenge negative thoughts

If you find yourself thinking negative thoughts while wearing your mask, challenge those thoughts by reframing them into a positive idea. For example, if you notice the thought, “I can’t stand wearing this!” tell yourself, “I’m okay right now.” Similarly, if you have the thought, “This mask is making me so anxious.” you can reframe that as “I’m able to do something to keep myself and others safe.” 

Focus on your breathing

Take deep breaths using your diaphragm to breathe from your belly. (Check Abdominal Breathing to Decrease Anxiety in the links below). Push your belly out as you take a long, slow breath in, hold it for just a moment, and exhale slowly. Abdominal breathing activates the vagus nerve and lowers your stress.

Practice mindfulness

When we become anxious our minds have a tendency to drift into the future. It’s easy then to start to think about all the scary possibilities. “What if my breath becomes shallow and I have a panic attack?” or “What will people think of me if I have to leave because my mask is so uncomfortable?”

As you notice when you have drifted into the future or past, you can bring yourself back to the present by noticing what’s around you. Notice three things you can hear right now. Now notice three things that are blue (or any color really). Now notice three things that you can feel. These grounding techniques interrupt the drifting mind and allow you regain control.

Desensitize yourself

Practice makes perfect, even when it comes to reducing mask-wearing anxiety. Wear your mask at home for short periods. Even if you’re only able to wear it for short periods at first, the more you practice, the easier you’ll find it to wear your mask for longer periods.

Make it more fun and relaxing

Choose a mask style that you enjoy. Consider the pattern, the type of loops, and the colors. Some people find aromatherapy helpful when wearing a mask. You can spritz your mask with a scent you enjoy. or one that helps you to feel relaxed (as long as you don’t make the scent too overpowering).∎

Karen Gray is a Certified Hypnotist, Registered Nurse, and the Director of Green Mountain Hypnosis.

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