How to Deal With the Mask of Anxiety
When I first came across this post from the Cleveland Clinic about mask anxiety, I thought it had something to do with the anxiety caused by other people refusing to wear masks. And while this is certainly something that many of us have struggled with over the past few months, the article talks about another type of mask-related anxiety – mask- wearing anxiety. Here’s what you need to know, along with some tips to help you manage this specific stressor.
What is camouflage alarm?
Face masks have been one of the most visible and controversial aspects of the pandemic. Not long ago, it was hard to believe that something designed to protect other people (and yourself) would become such a political hot button, but here we are.
Except, not all people with face mask problems are politically motivated. In fact, some people may actually want * to put on a mask (for public health and self-defense purposes) but cannot bring themselves to do so because even thinking about it can cause stress or panic. This is especially important for people with existing anxiety disorders and / or claustrophobia, according to Dr. Brian Barnett, a psychiatrist at the Cleveland Clinic.
“While some people with an anxiety mask may only experience psychological symptoms, others may have symptoms such as increased heart rate, shortness of breath, chest tightness, sweat and dizziness,” Barnett explains in his post. But if you have never experienced these sensations before, you may not realize that you are experiencing anxiety-related symptoms. If you fall into this category, he has some tips to help you cope.
(* Yes, we know masks are hot and uncomfortable, and under different circumstances most people – except maybe bank robbers – would prefer not to wear them. But in this example, this is someone who understands the benefits of a face mask . and wants to contribute.)
Tips for Dealing with an Anxiety Mask
While Barnett points out that people with more severe cases of masked anxiety may want to seek professional psychiatric treatment, there are a few things anyone can try for themselves.
Find a mask that suits you
There is currently no “standard” version of a reusable face mask – we have options. Barnett says buying a face mask that works for you can “empower you.” It makes sense: finally, finding a mask that is the right size and relatively comfortable can make a big difference.
So if you first tried wearing face mask fabrics a few months ago (before they became more widely available on Etsy and then mass produced), you should know now that there are so many other options out there. There are breathable fabric masks that can be more comfortable than others, not to mention the multitude of colors and designs.
For example, I had decent experience wearing face masks before COVID, and I had a few that were relatively comfortable. I then ordered a few from a small Los Angeles store and they fit so well that it greatly improved my mask-wearing experience – to the point where sometimes I forget that I’m wearing one. The takeaway here is that you may have to virtually shop around and try out several fabrics, shapes, and designs for masks before finding one that makes you feel less anxious than others.
Home test drive masks
If you don’t like the feel of wearing a face mask, Barnett suggests trying it at home, so at least you’re in a safe, comfortable, and familiar place as you get used to having it on your face. You also don’t have to start wearing it for hours. He suggests starting small and moving on.
Challenge your anxious thoughts
If you’ve tried cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) before, then you’re probably at least somewhat familiar with the concept of dealing with your negative thoughts. Barnett says this strategy can work with an anxiety mask too. For example, if you are worried about a mask reducing oxygen flow to your lungs , he recommends reminding yourself that healthcare professionals have regularly worn masks for over 100 years without fighting this side effect.
Barnett’s next important piece of advice is to remind yourself that “getting COVID-19 without a mask is much more dangerous to your health than feeling uncomfortable while wearing a mask.” As an anxious person, I’m not sure how I feel about substituting one stressor for another (you may worry about wearing a mask and getting COVID at the same time ), but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for some people.
However, I can agree with Barnett’s latest suggestion: Think of wearing a face mask as one of the few things you can do to feel in control at a time when things are still undecided. It may not relieve you of the anxiety associated with the mask, but if you are not good at dealing with the feeling that everything is out of your control, such framing can help.