Coping With Mask Anxiety

With so much uncertainty about what the future holds in these stressful times, many people are experiencing symptoms they may not recognize as anxiety.  Even things that are designed to offer some measure of protection, like wearing a face mask in public spaces, can cause people to have difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, feel hot or sweaty, have dizziness or a rapid heart rate. 

According to a recent University of Wisconsin Health report, many people find that wearing a mask can lead to common, but serious symptoms of anxiety.  Often, the symptoms may not be immediately recognized as anxiety.  In addition to feeling claustrophobic under a face mask, watching others wearing their masks incorrectly or not being able to read people’s facial expressions can also contribute to feelings of anxiousness while wearing a mask. 

Although most people are happy to comply with the mandatory wearing of face masks in public spaces where social distancing is not possible, it can take time to learn the coping skills to make the experience tolerable.   Experimenting with different styles of masks may help; try practicing for short periods of time at home before venturing out for a shopping trip or necessary appointment. 

If feelings and thoughts that cause anxiety start to creep up, try to slow down your breathing taking long breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.  A mantra to repeat to yourself can also help alleviate some of the symptoms; “I am safe and I will get through this” might be calming and reassuring.   Half the battle in coping with anxiety is identifying it and creating your own toolkit of actionable measures to take to reduce symptoms. 

If symptoms of anxiety persist for any reason, talk with your doctor about other options for treatment.  There is no need to suffer in silence.  Learning to cope with all the side-effects of the pandemic takes time but making space to engage in wellness activities like yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, or nature walks can help calm the body and the mind to prepare for what lies ahead. 

“For this too shall pass away, never fear.”