Dealing with a mask phobia during COVID-19 / Coronavirus

It is now a must to wear a face mask or face covering in the UK in certain places.  This is fine for many, but there are also people who really do not like wearing one or cannot wear a mask.

Having to wear a face mask may triggerpanic, dizziness and nausea, and hyperventilation. You may feel trapped and out of control; getting hotter and sweatier until your ears ring and you may feel like you’re going to black out. Claustrophobia impacts one in ten people and can be triggered by face masks.

I’ll be honest.  This also applied to me, the thought of wearing a mask filled me with absolute horror.  So that’s when I put my hypnotherapy to good use, it cured me of my needle phobia, so can also help me with my mask fear!

There are some exemptions to wearing a face mask, which are as follows, taken from the government website.  This includes (but is not limited to):

  • young children under the age of 11 (Public Health England do not recommend face coverings for children under the age of 3 for health and safety reasons)
  • not being able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
  • if putting on, wearing, or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
  • if you are travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others
  • to avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and you do not have a face covering with you
  • to eat or drink if reasonably necessary
  • in order to take medication
  • if a police officer or other official requests you remove your face covering

There are also scenarios when you are permitted to remove a face covering when asked:

  • if asked to do so in a bank, building society, or post office for identification
  • if asked to do so by shop staff or relevant employees for identification, the purpose of assessing health recommendations, such as a pharmacist, or for age identification purposes including when buying age restricted products such as alcohol
  • if speaking with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound. Some may ask you, either verbally or in writing, to remove a covering to help with communication

7 Ways to feel more comfortable wearing a mask:

Learn how to breathe properly

The most important thing to remember is your breathing – notice how you are breathing and if you are breathing from your upper chest (common when anxious, in shorter breaths), try and breathe deeper so that your breathe reaches your stomach. Slow your breathing down – practice “mindful, diaphragmatic breathing”– before you even put your mask on. Breathe in to a count of 4 – hold for a few seconds – then breathe out to a count of 4 – or even longer if you can manage it. This will help you to slow down your breathing and strengthen the muscles in your chest and abdomen to make your breathing more efficient. 

You could also practice regular yoga sessions which help with your breathing.

Introduce the mask gradually

Start to wear the mask for short periods at a time at home, so there is less pressure.   

  • With the mask on, breathe in, paying special attention to the fact that you can breathe.
  • As your body ramps up its anxious physiological response, tell your body: “It is safe. It’s just a mask. See look, I’m breathing.”
  • Take big, deep, long breaths to show your body that you can breathe. Continue the self-talk: “I have nothing to be ashamed of. My body is responding in the way that it should to keep me alive and well. It’s just confused. So, I’m showing it that I can actually breathe here.”
  • You can also take the mask off, again to show your body that if it does become too much, you can take the mask off and breathe fully. 
  • You can then, put the mask on and breathe again, or, it may be that today, you couldn’t practice that long because your mind and body became so anxious that it was unbearable. That’s okay. You can try again tomorrow. 

Everything should be gradual and carried out at your own pace, like is done with anything distressing, for example getting on a plane.

Affirmations and positive thinking

You can add in positive affirmations and thoughts when practising mask wearing, or even the real thing. Tell yourself ‘I am comfortable wearing a mask’ – do not let any doubtful words creep in there such as ‘I think I can’ or ‘I want to but don’t know if I can’.  Tell yourself and your brain that you can do this.

Repeat positive affirmations over and over to yourself.  Your subconscious mind believes what it is told – so the more you tell yourself positive things the easier it will be.

Think positively – you are helping others by being responsible and playing your part.

** However – if you see someone without a mask – do not mask shame – this won’t help.  Try understanding, there are those genuine reasons why someone cannot wear a mask.

Control timing and location:

It is important to take breaks in between wearing a mask. In other words, when thinking about your day, you need to find areas and times when you can safely be mask-free. You may want to change your routine a little so that it becomes less stressful, for example if you get stressed in a mask and when there are a lot of people, consider changing shopping time to earlier or later when it might be quieter.

Find the right mask for you

A very important point indeed! If you have a mask which is too tight or doesn’t fit properly this may trigger undesirable feelings such as anxiety.  Not every mask works for everyone. Look at why a certain mask gives you anxiety,  maybe it is because it is too heavy, or too thick, or you are getting too hot, in which case you may want to choose a lighter mask. Experiment with different styles, and choose one you feel good in! You may find that a surgical type one makes you feel unattractive, or restricted, whereas you feel much better in a lighter patterned one. 

You may even want to have one designed by yourself, give it some individuality.  This may help a lot if you are a trauma survivor and feel that you have control over the mask…not the other way around.

Try Hypnotherapy

If you need extra help – try hypnotherapy.  Create your own calm and see how hypnotherapy can help to alleviate the symptoms of fear, anxiety and claustrophobia.  Learn how to change your thought patterns and learn practical strategies which will help you to wear a mask, and also with these challenging times.