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Does your mask make you feel anxious?

You are not alone, mask anxiety is widespread.

The coronavirus pandemic has made masks become an everyday accessory. Unfortunately, doing your part can be uncomfortable in more ways than one. Beyond the dreaded moist mask, it isn’t uncommon for mask wearers to experience anxiety.

According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Connection, those who’ve never experienced anxiety might be now, and those who have a history of anxiety disorders, claustrophobia or sensory processing issues may be experiencing increased symptoms. Additionally, for some, seeing others in masks can lead to anxiety.

“Some people may even feel a bit sad because they can’t see others’ faces and smiles,” said Maura Grasshoff, a UW Health behavioral health social worker.

If anxiety is an issue for you, it’s possible you have not identified some of your unsettling feelings as anxiety, you just know you’re not acting or feeling the same as you did pre-virus. According to HealthLine some common symptoms include:

  • Excessive worrying

  • Feeling agitated

  • Restlessness

  • Fatigue

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Irritability

  • Tense muscles

  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep

  • Avoiding social situations

  • Irrational fears

  • Panic attacks

Panic attacks can be terrifying and having a mask on can make them worse. They’re restrictive and can lead to feeling trapped which could result in a fight or flight response, according to ACE Connection.

Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Brian Barnett said there are ways to cope with mask-induced anxiety.

“Mask anxiety, like most forms of anxiety, can be overcome either through self-directed interventions or by seeking professional help through cognitive behavioral therapy or anti-anxiety medications,” said Dr. Barnette, during an interview for the clinic’s HealthEssentials.

One recommendation is to desensitize yourself to the way the mask feels on your face. He said this can be done by wearing a mask at home so putting one on to leave is no longer stressful. If you need to, it’s okay to start with small stretches of time, he said.

It’s also important to challenge negative thoughts. How often do you find yourself thinking about how much you hate your mask or how uncomfortable it is?

Remind yourself that while unpleasant, you’re doing something to keep yourself and others safe, according to Dr. Melissa Shepard of Psychology Today.

When you begin to feel anxious, try to avoid rapid, shallow breathing. Use your diaphragm rather than your chest, and take long so breaths with the exhale longer than the inhale, she said. It’s a good idea to practice the technique even when a mask isn’t in place.

Dr. Shepard stated that practicing mindfulness can also make a difference. Rather than worrying about scary possibilities, focus on keeping your mind in the present.

The HeartForm insert can also offer relief by creating more breathing room between you and your mask, alleviating the feeling of suffocating.

Sometimes it is not enough to tackle anxiety on our own - don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Express how you are feeling to your loved ones so they know what is happening and how to help when you’re feeling anxious. If your symptoms become too much to handle, do not hesitate to contact a mental health professional.

The National Helpline is available to provide resources for those struggling and can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Remember, you’re not alone in your feelings and there is no shame in seeking help. We all need it now.

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