Mindpath Health’s Brandy Porche, LPC discusses what to do if you are stressed about the end of mask mandates.
COVID-19 has normalized the use of masks as a preventative measure across the US, but mask mandates are increasingly ending in most states.
Despite this, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has extended the security directive for mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs until April 18, 2022, based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC).
After navigating COVID-19 risks for years, there may be conflicting opinions and feelings around the end of mask mandates, but it can help to remember that your level of comfort and safety may be unique to you, which is totally okay.
Continuing to Wear a Mask Is Okay
Psychotherapist, Matt Glowiak, PhD, LCPC, says, “Patients have been mixed regarding feelings around the end of mask mandates. Some feel as though their freedom has been restored while others are terrified.”
Glowiak explains, “The amount of mixed and misinformation in the media has led toward mass confusion and even hysteria. Regionally, where I practice is one where most were on board with mask mandates, especially during the most contagious periods of the virus.”
In this way, Glowiak notes that there is relief regarding the end of mask mandates, but it comes with caution. “Many still carry masks but use them with discretion, especially in populated areas indoors,” he says.
Glowiak underscores, “For those concerned about masked mandates ending, know that you are not alone. Many are alarmed by this.”
Although mask mandates may have ended, Glowiak highlights that individuals may continue to take appropriate safety precautions to meet their needs. “You are still free to wear a mask as you see fit,” he says.
Just because “everyone else” is without a mask, Glowiak notes that people should think about their individual needs, but he discourages speaking down to or getting into altercations with those who may feel differently.
Glowiak further explains, “Like you, they are free to make their own best decisions. Perhaps as alarming an issue as the COVID-19 pandemic itself has been the way opposing sides have treated one another.”
Navigating apprehension regarding unmasked people may begin with utilizing effective coping skills, according to Glowiak. “This may include helpful self-talk while minimizing automatic negative thoughts,” he says.
Glowiak recommends deep breaths in a safe area to calm one’s nerves before entering. “If these personal strategies do not feel to be enough, then take additional precautions such as wearing a high-quality N-95 mask, carrying hand sanitizer, and maintaining physical distance,” he says.
Navigating Criticism for Still Masking
Chief Medical Officer and practicing psychiatrist at LifeStance Health, Anisha Patel-Dunn, DO, says, “People are definitely anxious. Many of my patients have had concerns and questions about the risks of no longer wearing masks since it has been common practice for so long.”
As masks become optional, Dr. Patel-Dunn recommends that people do what makes them feel most comfortable.
Dr. Patel-Dunn also advises making choices to minimize putting oneself into uncomfortable positions, if possible.
From washing hands to not sharing food, and maintaining social distancing, Dr. Patel-Dunn notes that people still have options. “It can be helpful to think about what you do have control over, and thinking about confronting your fears in a very methodical and thoughtful way,” she says.
To confront automatic negative thoughts, Dr. Patel-Dunn recommends identifying fears and having a discussion, based on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
In this way, Dr. Patel-Dunn notes that talking about fears and breaking them down can be helpful, especially if going to the worst case scenario rather than sticking to the evidence-based recommendations and facts.
Declining the Invitation to Debate
Licensed Professional Counselor with Mindpath Health, Brandy Porche, LPC, says, “My clients no longer feel safe with the end of the mask mandate.”
Porche notes that clients are already impacted. “A younger client stated that most students and teachers in her school are not wearing masks, and it has been a rolling wave of positive COVID test results because of it,” she says.
At this point, Porche highlights that all anyone can do is be the best at protecting themselves. “Wear your mask regardless of what everyone else is doing. Double mask if that makes you feel safer,” she says.
There are many folks out there that love to debate. You don’t have to accept the invitation to go back and forth.
Porche further recommends, “Continue to sanitize your hands and various surfaces you may touch. Take care of you and your family by following the same safety precautions. In public places, don’t be fearful of being the only one with a mask on. Don’t allow anyone to bully your mask off.”
It can even be helpful to role-play, according to Porche. “Practice being secure in your right to protect your health and the health of those you love. Be sure to practice what you preach, and your family will follow,” she says.
Porche dissuades people from feeling as if they owe anyone an explanation regarding masking. “There are many folks out there that love to debate. You don’t have to accept the invitation to go back and forth,” she says.
Whether one politely excuses oneself or simply does not respond, Porche notes that sometimes silence speaks louder than words ever could. “The naysayers will get tired of trying to disrupt your program and they will leave you be. Whatever the circumstance, stick to your principles and what others think about you or your family is none of your business,” she says.
Prioritizing One’s Safety Is Best
Behavioral health medical director at Community Health of South Florida Inc., psychiatrist Howard Pratt, DO, says, “When it comes to how patients are responding to the end of mask mandates, the reaction has been mixed.”
Dr. Pratt explains that some report a sense of relief, while others express doubt about whether they are safe from COVID-19 without masks, so people may feel awkward both about wearing a mask as well as taking it off.
Given these conflicted feelings, Dr. Pratt says, “Taking the mask off after having to more or less wear it for the better part of three years can make someone feel awkward and vulnerable especially when in a social setting.”
As an example, Dr. Pratt references a recent event. “We saw this at the Superbowl where tens of thousands attended with some wearing masks and others not. Surely, many planned ahead, considered their safety and that of others and brought a mask even when they didn’t have to,” he says.
Dr. Pratt recommends, “Firstly, do not take medical advice from politicians. Most of us don’t go to our mechanic when we want legal advice or to an attorney to tell us what’s wrong with our car’s transmission.”
If you are a person who has underlying respiratory disease or anything that would put you at risk of having serious complications due to COVID-19, Dr. Pratt recommends doing what is safest regardless of what others may say.
What This Means For You
If you feel stressed about the end of mask mandates, pay attention to your individual needs. Whether those align with loved ones or not, you may still be able to prioritize your safety. If these feelings limit your functioning, you may want to discuss this stress with a therapist. The bottom line is, if you feel more comfortable continuing to wear a mask, then you should do so.
To read the full article in VeryWell Mind and learn more the options you have if you are stressed about the end of mask mandates, click here.