Masks & Anxiety: How to Cope During COVID

** trigger warning (T/W): mention strangulation, Domestic Violence (DV), drowning

Graphic Credit: Dreamstime

This is not a political post or an endorsement not to wear a mask. This blog post is an exploration of an interesting and relatable theory that for people who've experienced various forms of trauma, face masks can provoke anxiety ranging anywhere from mild to extreme. This is especially true when one's breath has been restricted, or threatened to be, and for anyone who has almost drowned or felt suffocated.


Pre-existing traumas can include sexual, physical, environmental, racial, institutional, and other forms of violence and can leave permanent wounds. Some of these wounds are being re-opened during times like the ones we find ourselves in currently. It’s paramount to practice self-care and other coping strategies always, but especially right now.


Let’s get into it, shall we?


Masks & Anxiety


Have you experienced heightened anxiety around wearing your mask? Maybe you got stuck in line at the grocery store longer than you expected and you started to panic? Perhaps you felt it was silly to think, or worse, that you shouldn’t feel anxious while wearing your mask?


Well, if you suffer from PTSD, C-PTSD, or an anxiety condition, you may not be a long way off in how you feel!


Know that feelings of fear are not silly! Especially right now. It can feel scary when one’s airway feels restricted. Plus, not everyone heals from past traumatic experiences at the same rate and at the same time, leaving past wounds vulnerable to become uncovered.


What Does Research Say?


Researchers in both 2010, and again in 2014, showed that carbon dioxide (CO2) activates the brain’s amygdala. Located in the prefrontal cortex and part of the brain’s limbic system, the amygdala is the part of our brain that turns on the fight or flight responses. When we inhale CO2, as we do while wearing masks during COVID restrictions, our amygdala can potentially sense danger, which can elicit fear and anxiety ranging anywhere from mild to extreme.


Graphic Credit: Dreamstime

Helpful Coping Strategies


Having helpful coping strategies can help calm your nervous system while upset. Such strategies can help you cope while having to wear a mask during COVID. We’ve included three of our favorites If we’ve forgotten any, share your strategies in the comments.


1. Mindfulness


According to the popular website, mindfulness.org, when we practice mindfulness we can actually change the relationship we have with the anxious thoughts and feelings that surface during a panic attack or state of fear and panic.


Have a meditation practice or personal mantra? If so, tapping into that during a triggering event can be incredibly helpful. Even while standing in line at the grocery store. Focusing on the breath moving in and out can help to center someone when anxiety and panic begin to kick up.


Don’t have a meditation or mindfulness routine? That’s okay, too. A search of the App store on your device and you should find a few app-based mindfulness tools. If Apps aren’t your thing, you can also check out an introductory mindfulness book. Book Riot has a great guide here.


2. Limit Public Interactions


While this suggestion can be upsetting to those who already struggle to leave the house due to certain traumas and phobias, for some it can also be a safeguard. It’s especially hard on those struggling to manage symptoms of agoraphobia. If that’s you, lean on self-care as much as possible during these times of uncertainty.


For others, limiting your social interactions until this pandemic is controlled is the best defense against catching COVID and having to cope with feelings of panic and anxiety due to wearing a CO2 restricting mask. Practicing calming and grounding activities after exposure can be helpful, too.


3. Rest. Rest. Rest.


Life is grade-A exhausting for everyone right now. Resting properly during your off time can only help when in a situation in which you need to rely on coping strategies. When our bodies are resting, our muscles, tissues, and organs have the chance to rest, too. This allows our body the necessary time for the physical and mental rejuvenation it needs. Without proper rest, other stress responses may be more sensitive. Plus, proper rest is a practice in self-care!


Violence: Disproportionately Affecting Womxn and Non-Binary People


1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence (DV) in their lifetime. While the research community has historically overlooked the ways in which LGBTQ communities experience forms of violence, studies have shown that those who identify as LGBTQIA experience disproportion