5 tips for managing anxiety as mask mandates end
[5 MIN READ]
In this article:
The easing of COVID-19 guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) may make you feel anxious.
There are ways you can help yourself feel less worried about the transition, including understanding where the anxiety is coming from and practicing self-care.
Take it slowly and be gentle with yourself. You can also talk to a doctor if you’re still experiencing anxiety.
This spring marks the first time in nearly two years that most people in the United States aren’t advised to wear masks indoors. It’s a big change – one that took effect in late February when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eased its masking guidelines related to COVID-19.
The percentage of Americans that live in an area the CDC deems a low or medium level of community COVID-19 spread is continuing to rise. This means that the communities where levels are high and where the CDC still recommends wearing a mask in an indoor public setting are becoming fewer and fewer by the day. (The CDC does recommend people who are at high risk for severe illness from the virus and live in medium- or high-risk areas to talk to their doctor about whether they should wear a mask.) Numbers are being updated daily – be sure to check where your community falls in community spread data.
Some people are celebrating the changing guidance, while others are left feeling anxious. Masks may have helped them feel more comfortable and protected during the pandemic, and now that protected feeling is gone.
If you’re struggling with the rollback of COVID-19 safety precautions, here are five tips you can use to help ease the transition:
1. Trust the science
If, during the height of the pandemic, you relied on reputable sources to guide you on the best measures to take for you and your family, trust that you still can. The CDC uses the latest data to evaluate risk and revise public health recommendations based on science.
The recent rollback is a result of changing the metrics the CDC uses to assess COVID-19 risk. Three factors are now measured to determine a county’s risk:
- New COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days
- New COVID-19-related hospital admissions
- The percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients
Based on these factors, the CDC places counties in one of three groups – high, medium or low local COVID-19 risk. The revised guidelines focus on reducing severe illness from the virus and pressures on the health care system. Before the Feb. 25 announcement, the CDC assessed risk based on a county’s case numbers and positive test rates.
The agency eased the guidelines because of decreased risks from the Omicron variant and a significant drop in cases nationwide. It also dropped universal school mask mandates in counties where risk is considered low or medium. The CDC reversed school mask recommendations in most places because data showed that children are at relatively lower risk of serious illness with the virus.
2. Take it slowly
Just because the CDC is no longer advising most Americans to wear a mask indoors doesn’t mean you can’t still wear one. It took most people months to get used to mask and social distancing protocols when they were first introduced. It makes sense that getting used to life without them will take time, too.
In the Feb. 25 announcement, the CDC’s Dr. Greta Massetti said, “We should all keep in mind that some people may choose to wear a mask at any time based on personal preference.” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky also said that masking guidance could change again, depending on how the pandemic continues to evolve.
So, throwing away your masks and no longer being cautious doesn’t necessarily make sense. But trying to adjust – once again – to the new normal is a good idea. Just remember to take the transition slowly. If you were uncomfortable going to crowded places when cases were high, maybe try meeting friends at a park for a walk. Or going to restaurants or grocery stores during non-busy hours.
Once you’re more comfortable with these activities, you can progress from there.
3. Understand what’s causing your anxiety
Having something you could control during the pandemic, like wearing a mask and staying socially distanced, may have helped you keep anxiety at bay. These were steps you could take to keep yourself and your loved ones safe, and you felt you were doing all you could in the face of an unknown situation. Now, you may feel like you’re being told that you have to face the unknown without any defenses.
That’s not entirely true, though. Today we have the protection of vaccines.
Even though they may not provide the same physical comfort as a mask, vaccines protect you and your loved ones against infection with COVID-19 and severe illness. While vaccines work, studies have shown declines in their effectiveness over time, so make sure you get a booster shot if you’re eligible.
Currently, the CDC recommends everyone 18 and older receive a booster shot either six months after the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine series or two months after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Those ages 12 to 18 should receive a booster dose of Pfizer at least five months after their vaccine series.
4. Try some self-care
There are a number of ways to combat anxious feelings. Most of them simply involve taking care of yourself. Making sure you’re getting enough sleep, exercise and nutrient-rich foods is the best way to do this. And drinking plenty of water. But there are other ways you can help lessen anxiety.
- Deep breathing exercises
You can also try reframing your thoughts, from constantly asking yourself “what-if” questions, for example, to instead focusing on the present and what the true risk may be of leaving your mask at home. Checking your county’s up-to-date case information can help.
5. Treat yourself gently
Even after trying things like self-care, you may still feel uneasy. And that’s OK. Remember that it’s going to take time for you to feel safe entering a public place without a mask.
Also, remember that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. The rest of your family may be ready to do things that you’re not yet. Treat yourself and those around you with kindness and flexibility during this transition.
You’ve weathered two years of a pandemic. By recognizing anxious thoughts, trusting public health recommendations, taking the adjustment slowly, and making time to care for yourself, you can weather this next phase, too.
You can also talk with your doctor about your anxious feelings. They may be able to explain why taking the mask off now is considered safe and help you have confidence in current guidance.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.