A lot has changed in the past six months. Back then, we couldn’t have anticipated that wearing face masks would become part of the new ‘norm’. And whilst we understand their importance, they may present extra challenges for those suffering anxiety or mental health issues. If you’ve experienced this, rest assured that you’re not alone.
The mental health charity, Mind reports that mask anxiety may include:
- Feeling anxious or panicky, dizzy or sick
- Feeling like it’s harder to breathe
- Feeling trapped or claustrophobic
- Sensory overload from the fabric or the fact that something is touching your face
- Experiencing negative feelings around your identity or body image
- Masks are a visual reminder of the virus, so seeing masks might make you feel on edge or unable to relax. It might seem like danger is everywhere
- Feeling uneasy or scared of others wearing masks. They might seem threatening, sinister, or dehumanised.
- Feeling anxious or upset around people who are not wearing masks in public. (Although many people are exempt from wearing them, and you won't always know their reasons.)
- Feeling anxious about being judged, shamed or stigmatised in public if you’re exempt from wearing a mask for health reasons.
The Fight or Flight Response
Wearing a face mask in some cases can make you feel enclosed, trapped or in a confined space. Our faces are also quite sensitive to heat and irritation from fabric. Add to this, the greater resistance to airflow under the mask, and breathing may appear more difficult. These issues can provoke a flight-or-fight response and in turn, that can stimulate anxiety.
Tips on How to Make Wearing Masks More Bearable
Thankfully, it is possible to manage and reduce mask anxiety. Here are our top tips:
Aromatherapy has been used for centuries to treat anxiety. Before you put your face mask on, stop to apply our DE-STRESS Aromatherapy Balm to your neck, temples and wrists, before inhaling slowly three times. Blended with Chamomile to promote calmness, uplifting and relaxing, there’s also Neroli and Mandarin to help soothe tension and support feelings of well-being. You’ll feel your mood reset after using this amazing balm. You can also try popping a dab of the balm inside of your mask so that when you do put it on, you can continue to breathe in the DE-STRESS Aromatherapy Balm.
Another commonly used technique to treat anxiety is mindfulness. This too can be used when managing mask anxiety. Mindfulness practice encompasses a variety of techniques. One of which is to focus on your breath. Try to avoid rapid, shallow breathing when you’re wearing your mask. Instead, try using your diaphragm to breathe from your belly (your belly should rise and fall with your breath, rather than your chest rising and falling).
Another aspect of mindfulness is to stay in the present. Try and notice when you have drifted into thinking about the future or past and bring yourself back to the present. Grounding techniques can be helpful. For example, try looking around the room for a certain colour, noticing smells around you, or focusing on the physical sensations in your body (for example your bottom on the seat, your feet on the ground)
Mindfulness also teaches practitioners to challenge their negative thoughts. You may notice yourself thinking “I can’t stand wearing this!” Try and catch yourself when you have these types of thoughts. The key thing is to reframe it into something positive. An example would be “I’m OK and this is helping to keep me safe.”
By planning ahead, this can help you feel more in control. Begin wearing your mask for short periods at home and gradually increase the length of time to build up tolerance.
Try to get some fresh air outside before and after you wear your mask. Make sure you have something relaxing planned for afterwards too. And limit the time you have to wear it and factor in breaks from wearing it where you can.
Type of Face Covering
There are many things to consider when buying a face mask. You could choose a face covering that hangs down your neck rather than fitting around the jaw area. It may feel less enclosed and breezier. Also, you might like to experiment with different fabric types or make your own face mask from a fabric you like the feel of or is familiar to you. A thinner fabric may feel less oppressive. Most importantly, give yourself permission to have some fun. To make it less daunting and sterile, why not choose a brightly coloured, patterned or fun design for your face mask?