We just want to start with a bit of honesty: we hate wearing face masks. They make us feel like we can’t breathe and they make our faces sweaty. Also, they scare Abs’ grandkids. So, overall, wearing a face covering sucks—a lot. Especially for Anxiety Sisters.
That said, face masks during a global pandemic are absolutely essential. Scientific models show that if 80 percent of us wore face masks 80 percent of the time, we could greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19 (and other illnesses too). In fact, one Texas A&M study revealed that, in New York, where face masks are required and compliance is high, more than 66,000 cases of infection were prevented in one month. They also found that not wearing a mask dramatically increases the chances of contracting COVID-19.
To summarize, if we want to be socially responsible and prevent ourselves from contracting the illness, we really have to wear the masks. But, we do have to acknowledge that face masks can also be really difficult, even terrifying, for many of us Anxiety Sisters.
People already dealing with panic know what it is like to struggle to breathe. Put a mask on top of a panic attack and things only feel worse. We often tell panic sufferers to cool down and/or loosen all constraints–in other words, the exact opposite of what it feels like to wear a mask. Likewise, people with PTSD—especially those surviving sexual or physical violence and/or violent crime—may feel especially vulnerable. If someone has had the experience of being muted, muffled, or restricted physically, masks can be so triggering.
We have some ideas for mask wearers with anxiety (including us). We hope they help.
1) Try putting a drop of essential oil on your mask. Many Anxiety Sisters use lavender which is soothing and has a pleasant smell.
2) Find a mask that feels most comfortable for you. There are so many types ranging from paper to various fabrics. Experiment with a couple of different ones to find the right fit.
3) Feel free to express yourself creatively by buying a mask with a pretty design. Etsy has so many sellers who are happy to make inexpensive masks in every color and pattern. (Abs wears a mask with cat whiskers and a heart-shaped nose.)
4) Think about using a clear shield. We just tried one and it covers our eyes too. They also help breathing feel less restricted.
5) Bring your spin kit when you are out. Have plenty of soothers to help when the face masks feel overwhelming.
6) Take breaks as you need them. Going outside for a few minutes where you can take off your mask (if it is not crowded) can really help.
We also want you to remember that you are not alone. So many people are struggling right now in so many ways. If masks are triggering you, please have self-compassion. Let yourself know that your mask is protecting you and everyone around you, and be proud of yourself for doing something so uncomfortable.
We are here to offer you any support we can. This whole damn pandemic is so very hard. The only way to get through this is by being kind to ourselves and to each other.