Increasing Comfort with Wearing Face Coverings During Coronavirus (COVID-19) - PTSD: National Center for PTSD
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Increasing Comfort with Wearing Face Coverings During Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Increasing Comfort With Wearing Masks During Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Wearing masks over your nose and mouth will help stop the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Even as Americans are being vaccinated, the recommendation to wear masks in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 might last a good deal longer. If you find it difficult to wear a mask, becoming more comfortable with this new routine is more important than ever.

To increase your comfort with wearing masks, it can help to understand why wearing one is difficult for you. The reasons for discomfort can vary from person to person and may include:

  • Physical reactions. You may have physical reactions when wearing masks, such as lightheadedness, changes in breathing, feeling claustrophobic, blocked vision, or skin irritation.
  • Difficulty communicating. Masks can muffle voices and make reading facial expressions challenging.
  • Novel experience or social pressures. You may worry about what other people think of you when wearing masks.
  • Questioning requirements or expectations for wearing face coverings. You may believe that having to wear masks is unnecessary or infringes on personal rights.
  • Concerns about bias. If you feel you face cultural bias due your race, ethnicity, or for other reasons, you may believe wearing a mask will make it worse.

What Happens When You Feel Uncomfortable or Distressed?

If you are uncomfortable wearing a mask, you may feel the need to totally or partly remove it. You may even leave the situation where the mask is required. Taking steps like these—removing a mask or leaving a situation that is safe but uncomfortable—is called avoidance.

Avoidance may reduce stress in the short term, but over the long term, avoidance actually makes discomfort worse. It will make wearing a face covering more challenging over time. If many people avoid using masks, it raises the risk that COVID-19 will spread. On a personal level, it may prevent you from doing things you need to do, like grocery shopping or going to work or the doctor.

Strategies to Help You Feel More Comfortable Wearing a Mask

There are many effective ways to help make wearing face coverings more comfortable.

Practice wearing your mask

Create a plan and schedule to wear your mask to gradually learn to become more comfortable. Over time, transition from wearing your mask at home for a few minutes to wearing it in public settings for longer periods of time. For example:

  • Gradually transition to wearing your mask at home. At home, start by holding your mask to your face. Next, gradually transition to putting it on loosely and eventually to tying it on.
  • Gradually increase time. Wear your mask for 5 minutes and then increase the time by 5 minutes. Increase the time step-by-step until you can wear your mask comfortably for as long as you need to wear it.
  • Gradually change location. Wear your mask at home for your first few practices. Gradually transition to your neighborhood and other public areas.
  • Gradually increase activity. Wear your mask while sitting still initially. Over time, increase your activity (sitting, standing, going for a walk, talking with others).

If you find a practice session difficult, repeat that same session or lower the intensity and try again.

Choose meaningful and reassuring thoughts to help with any difficulty wearing your mask

Thoughts are powerful and directly influence emotion. Notice when you have negative thoughts about wearing your mask. Practice using positive thoughts instead. For example:

  • "I am breathing all of the air that I need while wearing my face covering."
  • "Wearing a mask can be difficult for anyone. It will start to feel more normal over time."

Remind yourself of your larger values and goals for wearing a mask.

This can help you to shift perspective and wear a mask more comfortably. For example:

  • "Wearing a mask is a two-way street. It helps protect me and my community from COVID-19"
  • "Wearing a mask will allow me to go grocery shopping and take care of my family."
  • And if you are a Veteran, remind yourself, "In the military I had to do many things for the greater mission."

Use distraction, relaxation or mindfulness techniques while wearing your mask.

  • Do something distracting to shift your focus, such as listening to music, planning your next meal, or intentionally focusing on the task in front of you.
  • Learn and practice a relaxation or mindfulness exercise that you can use while wearing mask. For example, practice slowed breathing: Take a normal inhale breath and exhale slowly over 5 seconds while thinking of the word "calm."
  • Try a mobile app like COVID Coach or Mindfulness Coach to help you practice self-care. Learn about more free mobile apps that you may find helpful.

Check your mask fit and try different types of masks made from breathable material

Seek support

Talk with your loved ones and support network about difficulties wearing masks.

  • Contact your health care provider if you are having trouble with wearing masks, especially if you have any medical or mental health conditions.

Be patient with yourself.

Learning to be comfortable with a face covering takes time and effort.

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Also see: VA Mental Health

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