Here are some ideas on how to make mask wearing more tolerable, and reduce any anxiety that you may be feeling about this new normal:
- Find a mask that fits comfortably.
You may need to experiment with different styles or fabrics of masks, as one may be more comfortable for you than another. Some styles have elastic around the ears and others have elastic that goes around the back of the head. Others have no elastic and instead are held in place by soft cloth that tucks behind the ears. Finding a mask that fits you comfortably is a huge step towards being able to tolerate wearing it for longer periods of time.
- Practice wearing a mask at home.
To help yourself adjust, try wearing the mask for short periods of time at first, gradually increasing until you can wear it long enough to do whatever it is you need to do. Starting small and working up over time can help you gradually increase your comfort and familiarity with the mask.
- Reframe negative thoughts and feelings about masks.
Rather than “This is terrible and I can’t stand it!”, can you tell yourself “I won’t have to do this forever, and it will keep many people safe in the meantime?” Reframing your negative thoughts using supportive and compassionate self-talk can help you learn to tolerate discomfort and stay focused on the bigger picture. Can you be okay with not being perfectly comfortable if you know that you will be helping others?
- Try a breathing technique.
Focusing on the discomfort may raise your anxiety levels and cause you to breathe more shallowly, which increases your anxiety levels, which causes you to breathe more shallowly, and so on. Box breathing is a relaxation technique that can help you break this cycle. This technique involves breathing in for a count of four, holding that breath for a count of four, breathing out for a count of four, then holding the breath for another count of four before inhaling again. Practicing box breathing for even a few minutes can start to calm the nervous system, and help you realize that it is possible to breathe calmly while wearing a mask.
- Practice mindfulness while wearing a mask.
If you notice discomfort, try to allow it to be without fighting it. Cultivating an attitude of acceptance towards the situation can give you more energy for other things. Direct your attention to other aspects of your experience. For instance, what can you see, hear, smell, feel – that is unrelated to the mask?
- Take breaks from mask wearing.
If you do have to wear a mask for extended periods of time, try to find ways to give yourself mini breaks. This could be stepping outside for some fresh air, taking a visit to the restroom or breaking down errands into smaller chunks that you are able to handle.
- Know when it may be time to see a mental health professional.
Are you avoiding going out even when you have to? Are you changing your life around in complex ways because of an aversion to wearing a mask? Don’t let psychological factors hold you back from experiencing life! Seeking cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) with a professional therapist can help you examine the connection between physical sensations, thoughts, emotions and behaviours, and learn strategies for tolerating and overcoming fear and avoidance.
Remember, even small ways of exercising some control in a time that feels very out of control can be empowering. The more we all take the necessary precautions, the more we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from becoming ill.
Remember, even small ways of exercising some control in a time that feels very out of control can be empowering.