Wearing a mask has become part of our daily lives.
It is already compulsory to wear one on public transport across the UK and from 24 July, you will have to wear one in shops in England.
They are already required in shops in Scotland, while Northern Ireland and Wales are considering introducing similar rules.
Although masks are recommended to protect both you and others around you, it can feel unusual having something covering your face.
For some people with anxiety, it can make them feel like they can’t breathe properly. It can create a sense of claustrophobia and add to the stress of being out and about in an already tense situation.
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Of course, there are exemption cards available and if you are unable to wear one for medical reasons, it is ok, but you may be worried about protecting yourself.
To help yourself feel calmer while wearing a mask, there are some things you can do.
Get comfortable with your mask
The best way to feel more comfortable is to practice wearing it before you leave the house.
Being out and about can be stressful enough right now so try to tackle the mask element when you are in your own environment.
Dr Ali Shakir, from the Harley Health Centre, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘One helpful exercise before you go out is to practice exposure by putting the mask on for two minutes at home so you start to feel safe in it in the knowledge that you can take it off anytime. Then you can increase this by five minutes and repeat the exercise whilst at home.’
Once you have got more used to it, you can wear it during more stressful activities like cooking or doing chores.
When you are at home, you are in control over how much you wear it as it is not required like when you are outside and you can slowly build it up to make you feel more comfortable.
Think about changing the style of mask
What is it about the mask that makes you feel anxious? It might be worth thinking about changing it to a different style.
Some are more fitted around the face, while others expand around the face and sit flush at the sides.
Some prefer something on the nose to keep it tight but if this is making you feel more anxious, try one without that element.
For glasses wearers, ensuring your glasses don’t steam up can help with anxiety.
You may also find that it is tight around your ears so you can try one with ties or buy a headband to clip it to there rather than onto your ears.
You might prefer a neck gaiter as the requirement is for your nose and mouth to be covered, but as these are looser at the bottom, you may be more comfortable.
Once you have practised wearing your mask and found one that you find comfortable, you need to get used to how to breathe in a way that will help you stay calm.
Of course if you have a medical condition which causes breathing problems, you can be exempt from wearing one.
For those who do wear one, respiratory health experts at PN Medical have some tips to help you feel more in control of your breathing.
The Anxiety and Depression Association America has also issued some helpful advice for people with anxiety who have to wear PPE.
Most people will not have to wear medical grade masks but the breathing technique can help anyone.
- Put your hand on your belly. Slowly breathe in for three to four seconds. Feel your belly rise.
- Hold the breath for one to two seconds.
- Now slowly breathe out taking three to four seconds. Feel your belly drop.
- Try this again.this time, when you breathe out see in your mind the word ‘calm’ or think of a calming phrase.
- Keep slow calming breaths when wearing your protective mask.
- Do not worry about the number of seconds as long as your breathing is slow.
Dr Ali Shakir also recommends using a visualisation technique to make you feel more comfotable.
He says: ‘In other words, deleting the mask from your face by taking your mind somewhere else. If you are focusing on the mask, this will definitely affect you.
‘So whilst you are wearing it take your mind somewhere else and be more mindful of other things. Pay more attention to your surroundings and what you are doing wherever you are. Learn how to focus more on the surroundings then yourself and the mask or its sensation.’
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