I’ll be honest — the first time I put a mask on I wanted to claw it off immediately.
It was back in March, before things got really bad here in the States, and a few weeks before Pennsylvania’s governor mandated that masks be worn in all public places.
My husband, who works in a hospital, encouraged me to wear a disposable surgical mask to the grocery store, and I admit that I ripped it off after about ten minutes. It was itchy and awkward, and I experiencing claustrophobia for one of the first times in my life. The only other time I’d felt like I was suffocating or that the walls were closing in on me was when we’d gotten lost in The Underground on our trip to London.
Needless to say, when it became mandatory to wear a mask and I realized that I was going to have to wear one all day in the office, I had a full-on panic attack.
While I 100% support the mask mandate, I realize that there are some people with invisible conditions — like anxiety or claustrophobia — that may have a hard time adhering to this rule, so I wanted to share some ideas that helped me and might help others adjust to this new normal.
- Material & Type:
The first disposal mask I tried was a high-grade surgical one. I didn’t like the way it tied around the back of my head and the thicker material was too much for someone who’d never worn a face covering. I felt the same way when I tried to use a mask that a coworker had made from an old pillow case. It was entirely too thick, which made me hot and it to me it felt like an actual pillow was being held over my face.
After trying a few different things, I found that a different type of disposable surgical mask worked better for me, as did masks made out of thinner fabric like these ones from Target.
You can also play around with different features or types of masks — some people like ones that loop over the ears, while others prefer ones that tie behind their heads. Some people are more comfortable wearing a scarf of bandanna. In most cases, as long as you’re not performing surgery or caring for someone with COVID-19, any of these are acceptable options.
This is something I didn’t give much thought to when I first started wearing a mask; I assumed they were ‘one size fits all.’ But now that it’s become a staple in life and something that’s probably not going away anytime soon, I’ve realized how important it is to have a mask that fits properly. And for those of us with anxieties, the fit may help alleviate some of those uncomfortable feelings.
I have a tiny head, and subsequently a tiny face. Sunglasses, headbands, and ball caps are typically too big for me, and the same goes for masks. The fact that the first few I tried were entirely too big for my face probably contributed to the feeling of being suffocated or overwhelmed. The last few I’ve purchased have actually been kid sized, but they work well for my apparently small dome.
If you’re struggling, try a smaller size or a different brand. As long as it covers your mouth and nose, you’re good!
3. Practice at Home:
Like with almost everything else, practice makes perfect. In order to get used to masks, I wore one around the house for a few minutes at a time before I felt comfortable doing so for extended periods. When it came time to wear one out in public, I first ran out to pick up a prescription, knowing that the trip would be short and I could take it off in probably less than ten minutes. Once I tackled short errands, I was finally able to wear one for a long trip to the grocery store and during work.
Concentrating on taking slow, even breaths also helped, as did using mantras like “I am safe” and “I’m getting plenty of oxygen.”
4. Use Essential Oils:
I’ve become a fan of diffusers and essential oils over the last couple of years, and occasionally use them on my mask. If I’m having a rough day at work or feel a panic attack coming on randomly while wearing one, I sprinkle the fabric with a few drops of lavender or this CBD oil.. Having the calming scents right against my nose helps me breathe better and stay calm.
5. If You Wear Glasses:
One of the chief complaints about masks is that they make your glasses fog up. While I usually wear contacts, there have been a few occasions where I’ve had to suffer through wearing my spectacles in conjunction with a mask, and it is a pain in the ass.
For those of you who wear glasses daily, may I suggest a mask with a nose wire? My husband, who wears his glasses all the time, works on the dock at a hospital, and explained that if the wire is pinched flush against your nose, it will greatly reduce fogging.
If you’re the crafty type, you can even make this a DIY project using materials like pipe cleaners, paperclips, or even twist ties.
6. Have Fun!
Look, we’re all kind of grasping at straws for ways to maintain sanity at this point. If we have to wear masks, we might as well have fun with it. If you’re the artsy type, have a (small, social distance-enforced) party and make masks with friends and family. Use old t-shirts, pillowcases, socks, and even bras to make yourself a one-of-a-kind face covering.
Flaunt your interests with sports team logos or these fabulous literary masks. One of the coolest masks I’ve seen is this one, for Harry Potter fans, which is an impressively authentic version of the Marauder’s Map.
You can also use this opportunity to support a good cause with the purchase of one of these masks that give back.
Well. There’s a post I never anticipated writing.
Hope this helps someone and hope you’re all staying safe and healthy.