I have to admit, I didn’t expect to feel as anxious as I did on day one of wearing my face mask while I shopped.
I appreciate that our NHS workers (including my Mum and Sister) are wearing full PPE for hours on end and they all have my utmost respect. I am in no way comparing me wearing a cloth mask in Sainsburys to the hours that many wear uncomfortable PPE in order to protect us all, but this doesn’t alter the fact that I did feel anxious while I wore mine.
I’m not exactly sure why I felt so anxious and uncomfortable; I found myself holding my breath and needing to take irregular gasps which then led to me feeling really dizzy. I hadn’t ‘worked myself up’ or over thought wearing the mask prior to my supermarket trip and I have generally felt mentally well during the 2020 pandemic that has affected us all. Nevertheless I couldn’t get out into the fresh air and remove my mask quickly enough.
I posted my thoughts on instagram and twitter and a few people came up with some strategies to try and things to remember and so I thought I would share them with you.
Consider the material
I bought a fabric mask from a local lady to support her home business but a few people said that the thinner ‘medical style’ masks are easier to breathe through. Having said that, my brothers friend wore his work mask and blew a match out while wearing it, showing just how useless it was so I think there’s a fine line between making breathing easier and having the protection that they intend to provide.
Consider relaxing scents
One lady adds a tiny amount of lavender or lemon oil to her mask before she leaves. She says it does calm her a little and I’ll be giving this one a go for sure.
Some people have suggested chewing gum or sucking a sugar free menthol sweet which has helped to ease their discomfort and provide a distraction.
Breathing exercises such as box breathing (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4, release for 4, hold for 4 and repeat) or breathing in for 5 and out for 7 can help along with grounding exercises if you feel anxiety building into panic. In those moments its important to pay attention to the things around you; list 4 things you can see, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can physically feel and 1 thing you can smell as it helps you to focus on external aspects.
Spending time wearing the mask in short bursts around the house was suggested by lots of people to help get used to wearing the mask.
Another way to prepare is to mentally be aware of the things you are saying to yourself which may not be very helpful and challenging the thought. For example, turn “what if I cant breathe?’ into ‘what if I can? or “what if it’s busy and I pass out?’ into “what if its quiet and I’m fine?’. You dont have to know the answers to the questions but an awareness that there’s an alternative scenario to the one you may be talking yourself into can be very powerful.
A lot of people said to remember WHY I am wearing the mask and be proud of myself that I am doing my part to stop the spread of Covid-19 but what I know about anxiety is that while the logical brain will remember this, its the emotional brain that kicks in during times of stress and so preparation and short sharp strategies are for more beneficial in those moments when you temporarily loose the rational understanding.
If you’re struggling too, I hope these tips have helped a bit. If you have any other tips to add, please do so on this blog so others can benefit too.