As a society we all are still working through the continued implications of COVID-19. Our access to group gatherings, our new normal school environments, our church limitations, our vacation limitations, our inability to travel normally and a level of isolation still have us in a living space of continued hypervigilance. One of the preoccupations is still with the issues of masks. It is a point of divisiveness among some of our citizens. Also there are discussions as to which masks to wear and how to where them when we are in public.
It is a bit strange to go out and to see so many individuals wearing masks. Although I interpret it as a healthy and caring act for those around us, it can be extremely uncomfortable at times. Most of us can cope with the impact of masks but for many, wearing a mask is a source of anxiety and difficulty. On the ACEs Connections website, Cassidy Webb writes an article on this very issue as she discusses some of the anxiety that masks create for some individuals. Here is a quote from the article:
Masks are a necessity right now in high-risk situations. While most people can wear a mask with no problem, many children, teens, and even adults who suffer from trauma, anxiety, panic disorder, or sensory processing issues find mask-wearing to be an extremely distressful experience. Of course, everyone understands that the COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected the lives of virtually every person in the nation, but as the pressure (and necessity) to wear masks continues to increase, more and more people are finding that they suffer from mask-induced anxiety or panic attacks.
Panic attacks cause shortness of breath, which can be made worse if a person is wearing a mask in the middle of an episode. Furthermore, mask-wearing can make people with panic disorder feel trapped and send their bodies into a fight-or-flight response. At the same time, wearing something that covers these individuals’ mouths and noses feels restrictive and claustrophobic, causing them to panic. People who have been through a traumatic experience, like being mugged or attacked, may feel suffocated and experience flashbacks. There are many reasons why mask-wearing provokes anxiety, but there are also ways to cope with it.
As Ms. Webb suggests there are ways one can cope with mask anxiety by being proactive about messaging to yourself, breathing and some techniques for regulation. Wearing masks and coping with them are a necessary part of protecting each other from COVID-19. I think it is also very important to realize that someone who is wearing a mask may be on edge and feeling some panic although we may not be able to sense it because their facial expressions are hidden. It will be important for all of us to have raised awareness coupled with compassion for those who may be dealing with mask-induced anxiety.