Here’s the thing: Despite the growing body of evidence that shows how wearing a face mask in public keeps us safe, it isn’t always easy for everyone to do. In fact, having a face covering can be a distressing experience for some.
It’s not an uncommon experience, either. An increasing number of people have expressed reservations about putting on a face mask, saying it makes their chest feel tight, and makes them feel hot and dizzy as if there isn’t enough oxygen for them to breathe. For some, the mere thought of wearing a face mask can cause a great deal of stress.
These are symptoms of what experts call mask anxiety, and it’s something that people with anxiety disorders or a history of claustrophobia go through. While this may sound like a fairly new experience, there are expert-recommended tips to help one go through it.
How can you work through it?
If you’re starting to feel anxious about wearing a mask, one of the first steps you can take is to try and ground yourself. Identify what you’re feeling at the moment, and accept that these emotions are normal and they will pass. At the same time, focus on the present by identifying sounds, smells, or sights you’re experiencing.
Simple breathing techniques also go a long way. Dr. Robyn Koslowitz, director of the Targeted Parenting Institute, notes that these techniques help you breathe deeper and slower if you’re already hyperventilating. For people who are concerned that they’re not getting enough air with a mask on, these techniques allow your brain to know that you’ve got more oxygen than you think.
And much like most fears, one way to help you deal with this anxiety is by confronting it head-on—safely, of course. To help you get used to the feeling of a mask on your face, experts suggest putting your mask on for small stretches of time at home. Once you’ve gotten used to that, try keeping your mask on for longer periods of time.
When you really need it, how can you take a breather?
Despite our best efforts, sometimes you really just need a breather from your mask while you’re in public. Dr. Cassandra M. Pierre, director of public health programs at Boston Medical Center, recommends going to an area with minimal people. If you’re outside, stay at least 12 feet away from people if you’ll be removing your mask.
Before removing your mask, make sure you’ve washed your hands with soap and water for 20 to 30 seconds or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Lift and remove the mask by holding both ear loops, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Once you’re ready to put it back on, make sure your hands are sanitized and keep your hands off your face as you wear your mask again.