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Anxiety Coping Strategies When Wearing a Face Mask

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — July 1, 2020 — 3 min read
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated their COVID-19 face mask guidance. These new guidelines are to help stop the spread of the delta variant, which is more contagious.

The CDC recommends that most people wear face masks in indoor public places. This will help protect:
  • Children who can’t get the vaccine yet
  • Those with weakened immune systems
  • The unvaccinated
All of us want to do our part to protect the high-risk individuals in our community—but what if wearing a mask causes more than just discomfort? How do you deal with the very real anxiety that can form while covering your nose and mouth?
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Wearing a Mask When You Have Anxiety, PTSD, or Another Mental Illness

If you have a mental illness like anxiety or PTSD, you process the world differently than those who don’t have a mental illness. Those with panic disorders may feel as if they are being suffocated and their body can go into a fight or flight response. Those who have been through traumatic experiences that involved masks (like having cancer, being robbed by a masked attacker, etc.) may feel those memories flooding back.

If wearing a mask triggers a distressing memory, an anxiety attack, or a panic attack, you are not alone. While you still should wear a mask when in public, there are ways to reduce anxious feelings.

Identify what is happening in your body.

Close your eyes and try to become aware that you are having a panic/anxiety attack. This alone can help calm you down.

Use relaxation techniques in public.

Take slow, deep breaths. Tell yourself that you can breathe, it’s just that your body is registering that you can’t. Squeeze and release your muscles. Close your eyes and imagine you are in your happy place. Listen to music and focus on the sound.

Take a buddy with you.

Have a trusted friend or family member go with you when you must be in public. If you feel overwhelmed, let them know, so they can help you ground yourself.

Take breaks and give yourself space.

If you must be in public for a long period of time, take breaks to go somewhere secluded (your car or the bathroom stall) to take off your mask. Take as long as you need.

Remember why you’re doing it.

Wearing a mask is a simple gesture of kindness to others. When you are feeling stressed out by wearing a mask, it might make you feel better knowing that you are helping your fellow community members.

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Updated on August 4, 2021 to add updated information from the CDC. 
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