How to Combat Face Mask Anxiety
Face Masks are Becoming Compulsory
If you already struggle with breathing issues or discomfort, wearing a face mask could become a new source of anxiety. On Friday 24th July, wearing one will become mandatory in all shops and supermarkets across England and those that fail to comply will face fines of up to £100.
Covid 19 has already affected large numbers of people in the UK already on a personal level. We have been denied funerals, weddings, hospital treatment and it has prevented the elderly from seeing their loved ones. However, the latest measure is set to affect everyone who wishes to purchase necessities such as food, water and toiletries.
Those with existing respiratory problems such as asthma could find that wearing a mask can exasperate their condition. If you suffer from claustrophobia or any other anxiety disorder, wearing one may not feel like it is helping. It is important to understand why and how you can combat any apprehension you have.
Understand the Anxiety
Some people find masks hard to communicate in, both in speaking and comprehending what the other person is saying because they cannot see their mouth. What is important to remember however, the person you are speaking too may also be feeling the same way about you, so you can take some comfort in knowing that you aren’t alone.
For others it could be a more deeply rooted issue, it may correlate with an experience that happened when they were younger and has been imprinted in their programming. People with a history of panic disorder or Claustrophobia can take comfort in knowing however, that through mindfulness and meditation techniques they can reduce their anxiety.
Use these techniques below to help ease any discomfort whilst wearing your face mask out in public. With the help of mindfulness you will be able to master this with practice and wearing will no longer cause you any anxiety:
1. If you notice yourself beginning to feel uneasy you should stop yourself in your tracks. When those negative thoughts begin to play out in your mind imagine a large STOP sign in front of you.
Say the word STOP clearly and calmly out loud or in your head. Do this without anger, frustration or negativity. Then clear your mind for a few seconds and focus on something positive, maybe something you are grateful for.
2. Catastrophizing can direct us away from the real issue. As an example, you may think that if you attend a social event that you will miss the last train home, and this can then be used as an excuse not to attend.
Think about all the ways that you could deal with this situation. You could get a taxi or bus, share a lift with someone, stay at a friend’s home or at a hotel. Suddenly the catastrophe doesn’t seem so huge, and you can learn to appreciate your own resourcefulness.
3. When you have noticed that you are catastrophizing and learnt to stop it, imagine the social event without the fear of failure. How would you behave, and how would you feel if you knew that everything was going to be fine? You can even visualise the event beforehand and imagine the social event being a personal success.
Your mind doesn’t distinguish between what is real and what is imagined, so when you visualise events beforehand you are priming yourself for success.
Mindfulness and Anxiety
When we operate in the monkey mind we don’t often realise that we are reacting instinctively. Our reaction is immediate and provides a response which has been programmed for that given situation.
This can be helpful in fight or flight situations but otherwise the programmed response may stem back to a time when we weren’t able to process the information correctly and subsequently weren’t using mindfulness. These negative responses then become a habit which is hard to shift.
A feeling of stress or anxiety, for example, can induce panic, making you feel unwell and unable to deal with the problem at hand. If you find yourself in this situation, take time to breathe, and to notice the sensations in your body. If you feel your temperature rise, for example, notice the way that your skin feels.
You will notice that your body temperature begins to drop once you have begun to sweat. Take notice of this and let any negative thoughts drift away.
Mindfulness Meditation Exercise
Follow the steps below and practice this exercise as often as you can to become mindful.
- Find somewhere comfortable. It can be a bed or a couch, but make sure it is somewhere you won’t be disturbed.
- Breathe. Breathe deeply, in through your nose and out through your mouth creating a circular breathing pattern. Push out your stomach as you breath in and let it retract naturally as you exhale. Continue this breathing pattern and let any tension in your body melt away with every out-breath. Be aware as each second passes, and notice the way that the breath feels as you inhale and exhale.
- Clear your mind. The aim is to clear away any negative thoughts so that your mind becomes still and centred, and constantly in the present moment. This can be a challenge if you have had a busy day or there is noise around you. If that is the case, affirm to yourself that any outside noise will help you to relax even more, and let it happen without judging or feeling that you must do something about it. Don’t worry if you get the odd unwanted thought. Just centre your mind again and allow the thought to drift away like a cloud. Focus on your slow deep breathing and feel a strong connection to the present moment.
- Be present. Once you have cleared your mind and achieved silence, stay present for as long as you can. Even if it just for five minutes this will help you to practice staying mindful. When you are ready, allow yourself to come back to full waking consciousness.
Once you have practiced and achieved mindfulness you will be able to use it in any situation, not just when it comes to wearing a mask.
“The past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfilment in whatever form. Both are illusions.”
– Eckhart Tolle