Conversations about face masks seem to go one of two ways. There are those who won’t wear them, and those who will. Somewhere in the middle there’s another group of people who find themselves with a pounding heart, feeling dizzy, short of breath, sweating, and racing thoughts at the thought of wearing a mask. This is known as mask anxiety, and this experience can feel overwhelming.
Mask anxiety, like most forms of anxiety, can be overcome either through self-directed interventions, by seeking professional help, or (most effectively) a combination of both.
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 of having something cover our face.
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 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 You Can Use Right Now
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 mask anxiety and feel more comfortable.
I’ve included two helpful tools in the links below. Guide to Abdominal Breathing for Anxiety and Stress Relief is an easy to use breathing pattern that uses your body’s natural rhythm to naturally and quickly decrease stress. “Stop the Worry Cycle” is a custom audio hypnosis program that lowers your current stress and changes the way you respond to anxiety triggers and stressful situations.
Reframing - Challenge negative thoughts
If you find yourself running through negative thoughts while wearing your mask, you can 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 lower that anxiety.”
Focus on your breathing
Take deep breaths, using your diaphragm to breathe from your belly. Push your belly out as you take a long, slow breath in, hold it for just a moment, and exhale slowly pulling your stomach muscles back in. Abdominal breathing activates the vagus nerve and lowers your stress. Take a look at the Guide to Abdominal Breathing for Anxiety and Stress Relief in the links below for an easy and effective exercise that will lower your stress and help control anxiety.
Mindfulness can mean different things to different people. In this case, we are talking about being present in the moment in your surroundings to keep yourself from getting carried away by a thought.
When we become anxious our minds have a tendency to drift into the future, following some arbitrary train of thought. It’s sometimes easy then to start to think about all the scary possibilities. “What if 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 begin to notice when you’re following some negative stream of thought, 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.
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 a few moments at first, the more you experience safely wearing a mask, the easier you’ll find it to wear your mask for longer periods.
Make it more fun
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).
If you find yourself struggling to wear a mask, talk to a professional. A mental health provider can use treatments like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) that can help control anxiety over time. A qualified hypnotist can help you change the way you naturally respond to triggers so you can better manage symptoms and experience less anxiety overall. Whichever you choose, remember that you don’t have to live with anxiety and stress. There are lots of treatment options available, with or without medications.∎
“Stop The Worry Cycle” audio hypnosis program:
Guide to Abdominal Breathing for Anxiety and Stress Relief: