How to Navigate Mask Anxiety

By July 13, 2021Mental Health
mask anxiety

Californians are beginning to adjust to a post-COVID life. The state discontinued tier statuses for counties and is transitioning into the promise of a mask-free summer. However, as some feel less stressed about COVID, others can experience stress from relaxing facial covering guidelines and the uncertainty of others’ vaccination status. The evolving mask guidelines hold the potential for a continued debate regarding mask guidelines and vaccinations.

COVID-19 Restrictions

The state’s COVID-19 website reflects the current status of its response to the pandemic. The state opened up the economy on June 15th, allowing all businesses to operate at total capacity. Companies and people continue to comply with the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) recommendations regarding mask-wearing and vaccination. The freedom many are experiencing can create a feeling of liberation or, in some cases, anxiety or stress. While some comply with the CDC guidelines, the question others have is, “How do we know who is vaccinated and who isn’t?”

The immunocompromised, those with cancer, a disability, or any other type of risk factor can feel they are left to fend for themselves. At the start of the pandemic, some people voiced their opinion about wearing masks to protect others. Too often, a portion of the population felt those at risk of infection should “stay home” instead of protecting others. With the mask requirements changing, those with pre-existing conditions can choose to continue wearing a mask to ensure their safety or the health and well-being of others.

The other aspect of the evolving guidelines is the freedom not to wear a mask even if a person hasn’t received their vaccination shots. Without proof of vaccination, anyone can go out in public without a mask and say they are vaccinated. The people who don’t want to have a shot or wear a mask can argue it’s their right to do as they wish. The difference in views can create strife amongst family, friends, or strangers.

Mask guidelines and the restriction of vaccine passports can lead some to wonder if they are safe in public places. For those who are immunocompromised, know someone with a pre-existing condition, or prefer to wear masks for their comfort or respect for others, the mask and vaccine guidelines can create a dilemma. Should they continue wearing a mask, or can they trust others?

Working Through the CDC Guidelines

The CDC’s guidelines are ever-changing. There are times when some confusion exists around mask-wearing. People aren’t always sure where they must wear a mask, go maskless, or what rights business owners have regarding mask-wearing. The arguments or discussions surrounding COVID-19, masks, and vaccines are, at times, overwhelming or a cause of varied emotions.

If a client believes they are safer when wearing a mask, encourage them to continue wearing masks. Perhaps, they feel pressured by those around them to stop wearing a mask. The pressure to not wear a mask or get the vaccine can become fierce if the client works or socializes with people with different opinions.

Masks and Mental Health

When your client began treatment for a substance use disorder, they started treatment because they needed help. The ongoing controversy surrounding masks and vaccines is problematic because emotions like stress and anxiety are harmful to a person’s well-being and increase the risk of relapse.

Masks are similar to healthy behaviors learned in treatment; they create a sense of well-being. Through consistent wearing, a mask becomes a habit, and when faced with the prospect of not wearing a mask, resistance is possible. Identify the reasons why your client is hesitant to stop wearing a mask. Are they worried about their health, a loved one’s health, or the integrity of others? Has wearing a mask become a coping mechanism? Or, is mask-wearing becoming a part of their daily ritual? If any of these situations apply, share with them the positive aspects of their constant mask-wearing.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh looked at the correlation between mask-wearing and mental health. The study took steps to control behaviors, social and psychological, to assess the outcome. Those who wore face masks did not suffer from poor mental health; in fact, the researchers found those who complied with face mask guidelines “always” or “most of the time” had better mental health than those who didn’t comply.

Is Mask Wearing the New Yoga?

Wearing a mask is shown to increase a person’s mental health; could mask-wearing become a healthy coping mechanism? A face mask can represent many things to many people. The act of complying to protect others from harm or personal health is a conscious decision to integrate a healthy habit into a daily routine. A face mask can boost a person’s sense of well-being and aid them in integrating other healthy practices like yoga, meditation, or art. Mask wearing may be here to stay; using its positive effect on mental health is a part of comprehensive care.

Californians will face the question of whether or not they choose to continue to wear a mask or go without one. The dissenting opinions and divisiveness of face mask-wearing are problematic. The choice to wear a face mask is made by considering current CDC recommendations, state or local guidelines, and a particular business’s health and safety policies. Unfortunately, divisiveness impacts a person’s feelings of stress and anxiety. Many have felt the uncertainty of being around those who aren’t vaccinated or those with opposing mask beliefs. When a person questions whether or not they should wear a mask because they want to or stop for similar reasons, they struggle with the decision. Researchers showed face mask-wearing is a healthy habit that can increase a person’s mental health. Alta Centers encourages clients to discuss their personal beliefs and how face masks affect their emotions with trained experts. We provide resources and information to those who call (888) 202-2583.

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