Navigating Anxiety and Fear: The New Face Mask Rules July 2020.

On Friday 24th July, new rules were introduced in England which state that face coverings must be worn in enclosed spaces including shops, supermarkets, takeaways, banks & building societies and post offices. Understandably, for many these new rules are a source of anxiety. Already there is a swathe of public opinion circulating on social media on this issue and this has resulted in additional pressures on individuals who may feel anxiety about wearing a mask.

It is important to consider that we have navigated such a lot during the coronavirus pandemic so far and we have done pretty well! There have been a number of times when we have been faced with new rules to adhere to. Every time we are faced with a change to how we are expected to behave, this can bring with it anxiety or fear. This is a natural response to adversity and change. We may notice our minds and bodies reacting such as worrying thoughts, body sensations such as increased heart rate or changes in our breathing. We may also engage in behaviours in response to these observed symptoms. Common behavioural responses may include avoiding going out or perhaps directing our anxiety or fear towards others. When experiencing anxiety or fear, may also feel that we have a lack of control and this can cause more anxiety in itself. It is important to consider that although we may feel a lack of control over how our body reacts, there is much that we can control at the current time.

It is important that we try to cultivate compassion towards both ourselves and other people at this time. Anxiety and fear can lead to unhelpful comments towards others. This only serves to create hostility, division and ultimately more anxiety. It is also important to remember that we are in control of many things including when and how we decide to visit establishments where a face covering is required. We don’t have to rush out today if we do not feel we are ready. There are many people who have anxiety around wearing a face covering. This may be due to concerns around the feel of the covering against the face or worries about being able to breathe easily. These are very real concerns for many individuals. Some things to consider that any help you navigate the new face covering rules may include:

  1. Choosing a mask that feels most comfortable for you. Many have spoken of the benefits of a cloth mask for this purpose.
  2. Practice wearing your mask in the comfort of your own home, where you do not feel rushed or have other expectations on you. Try wearing it for short periods in the day. You can increase the frequency and duration as you feel more comfortable.
  3. Practice breathing in your mask using a technique where you breathe in through your nose. The idea is to observe inflation around your belly button area as you breathe in, rather than observing your chest and shoulders rising.
  4. It may be helpful to practice by looking in a mirror and observing your breathing style, while also getting used to how you look and feel in your face covering.
  5. Try and focus on something you can see around you. Try and observe one or two things that draw your attention. It could be something that is a nice colour, shape or pattern.
  6. You may notice some worrying thoughts when you are wearing your face covering. Try and ‘observe’ them but not engage with them. It can helpful to say your thought out aloud e.g. I am having the thought that it feels hot in my mask’. Remember that thoughts are just automatic occurrences in your mind. They will come and go.
  7. It can also help to remind yourself why we are all doing this. We are all trying our best to get through this pandemic and keep each other safe. We have coped with a lot, we can do this!
  8. You could begin to practice wearing your mask out of the house in small achievable steps. For example, wearing it on a short walk, wearing it in a shop at a quiet time of day or visiting just one isle you know well in a shop to make the experience more manageable to begin with. You could confide in a family member or friend and organise to go to a shop with them until you feel more comfortable on your own.
  9. Remember…. Masks may be mandatory, but it is important that you feel in control of when and how you access the community where a face covering is required.
  10. Remember to always follow the rules of mask hygiene and dispose of any masks responsibly too.

©️Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo-July 2020.

Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo
Horsham Psychology
July 2020.