Mask anxiety is real, and with the new COVID-19 regulations, it’s making life difficult for some people. Here are my tips on how to overcome mask anxiety.
What is mask anxiety?
Mask anxiety is a horrible feeling that something dreadful will happen when you are wearing a mask – or when you see someone else wearing one. It can be really debilitating. If you suffer badly you may perspire, tremble, feel nauseous and/or dizzy just at the sight of a face covering. In ordinary times, you can usually find a way to avoid face masks. However, with new COVID-19 regulations, this awful condition is threatening to make normal life impossible for some.
When you understand a little of how your body and your brain work to create anxiety symptoms, you can learn how to overcome mask anxiety. Read on
You are not alone. Mask anxiety is surprisingly common
It’s perfectly normal to feel anxious or uncomfortable about wearing a face mask. The reasons are very different for each individual and they are surprisingly varied. In fact, I would imagine that if I were to stop 1000 people on the street today and ask them how they really feel about wearing a face covering, every single person would have concerns.
- I’m worried that people might stare at me
- Fear of not being recognised by friends and acquaintances
- My specs will steam up so I can’t see
- Hate the feeling of fabric on my nose/ears/chin
- I won’t be able to breathe properly
- Other people in masks make me feel anxious
- Physically uncomfortable
- Scared I’ll do something wrong and be told off
- Worried about leaving lockdown – the mask is a symbol of this
- No idea why but I just don’t like it
What causes mask anxiety?
The human brain works in mysterious ways. Put very simple there are two types of brain activity. Conscious thoughts and feelings – ie everything you are aware of. Then there is Sub conscious activity. Your brain is analysing everything that is happening inside and outside of your body. It will only tell your conscious brain what’s going on if it needs you to react. For example, your subconscious brain happily monitors your digestion – if that’s going well, you won’t even think about it. If however, there’s a problem, your conscious brain will tell you – maybe you’ll have a pain or feel an ominous rumbling;
The whole time you are alive, your subconscious brain makes associations so that it can alert your conscious self to danger. Perhaps as a child you were frightened by a dog? Your subconscious brain may have associated dogs with injury. Today, you may feel worried every time you spot a canine – even if the dog is friendly.
How does your subconscious alert your conscious brain and your body? It triggers the release of stress hormones. Adrenaline and Cortisol. These are designed to prepare your body to either run away or defend itself (fight or flight).
Mask anxiety happens when your subconscious brain has made the association between face coverings and danger or discomfort. Your body releases stress hormones to give you a sudden surge of energy. If that energy can’t be expended by physical activity then your body will feel those all too familiar anxiety symptoms.
If you suffer from mask anxiety, it’s NOT your fault. You’ve done nothing wrong. This is a real phenomenon and it’s not something you can easily control or override without practise. But you can re-train your subconscious brain. And that’s what I help people to do.
Re-train your subconscious brain to overcome mask anxiety
Your subconscious brain associates face masks with some sort of threat. You may or may not be able to fathom out what that perceived threat is. It’s worth exploring with this a trained professional. You can discover all sorts of things about yourself – some will be awesome, some may be uncomfortable. A professional counsellor or hypnotherapist will help you to gather your thoughts without reliving past traumas.
In the short term though, we need to help you to manage your mask anxiety so that you don’t spend the next 12 months inside the house. We humans need to go out and about for the sake of our mental and physical health.
You need to teach your subconscious brain to forget about bad experiences and to associate face masks with feelings of safety, comfort and even joy.
Try this at home
Think of an activity that makes you feel good. I don’t mean bungee jumping or playing drums – something calming that soothes your soul. What you’re about to do mustn’t release a single drop of adrenaline, instead we’re aiming to release dopamine – the feel-good hormone.
How about following a guided meditation, reading a book, watching sport, or creating a piece of art? For an example, I’m going to use watching your favourite TV show – you must choose what works for you.
Get yourself really comfortable. Put your phone on silent, slip into your comfiest clothes and if you have one, settle the cat on your lap (stroking pets is a really good way to avoid anxiety).Make your surroundings really beautiful. If you like flowers, treat yourself to a bouquet or maybe light a candle. Scent is a really powerful relaxant – you could put a drop of your favourite essential oil onto your sleeve. As you start to relax, your face mask needs to be close by, but not in your eyeline. Perhaps pop it on the arm of your chair.
Re-training your brain
Switch on to your favourite program and really relish the anticipation. Where in the world will you be transported to? What time of year was the episode filmed? Who is featured and what will you learn?
Do a quick mental body scan to check on how you are feeling right now. Feel how your body is supported by your chair, how your shoulders are nice and relaxed, your teeth are separated and there are no furrows on your brow. You’re not too hot and not too cold. Everything is well with the world.
As the opening credits begin, without thinking about it, reach for your face mask and pop it on. Breathe naturally and focus on the TV. Notice how soft the fabric of your mask is against your skin, how easy it is to breathe and how the mask makes no difference to your TV viewing. Now take the mask off and carry on watching.
You have completed your first brain training session. Your subconscious brain will have started to make the association between your facemask and pure pleasure. Your next task is to repeat the exercise but keep the mask on for slightly longer.
As you become more confident you can wear your mask for other positive tasks – for example, preparing a healthy meal with lots of brightly coloured fruits and veggies, listening to an audio book with your eyes closed – the choice is entirely yours.
More ways to overcome mask anxiety
Hypnotherapy is a complimentary therapy which offers a safe and painless way to retrain your brain. Forget those TV hypnotherapist who make fools of their subjects. Clinical hypnotherapists are very professional and you will be in complete control of what happens in a session.
It’s all about deep relaxation in a safe environment, this is the best way to reach the subconscious brain and introduce new ideas. Hypnotherapy works for people who want to stop smoking, eat better or manage day to day stress. It also works beautifully to overcome mask anxiety. The aim of hypnotherapy is to:-
- Teach the subconscious brain to notice and then ignore the background information that would normally trigger an anxiety attack
- Or, for the subconscious brain to gives that information a different meaning. I.e. That person is wearing a face mask but it’s not a danger to me.
If you would like to try hypnotherapy but don’t want to leave your home just yet, we can work together using skype or zoom so that you feel safe.
I am Warren York. I have a successful hypnotherapy clinic in Belfast and also work with people around the globe using remote technology. Why not give me a call to find out how I can help?