By Shalene White
Since March 2020, when the coronavirus crept its way into the United States, one of the hot topic debates have been the usefulness of masks. In early Spring, public health officials, including the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, told Americans that masks were not necessary.
However, as the pandemic raged on, many officials changed their tunes on the importance of mask wearing. Fauci attempted to explain why officials seem to waver on mask wearing in an interview with The Street.
“Masks are not 100% protective. However, there certainly are better than not wearing a mask. Both to prevent you, if you happen to be a person who may feel well but has an asymptomatic infection that you don't even know about, to prevent you from infecting someone else," said Fauci. "But also, it can protect you a certain degree, not a hundred percent, in protecting you from getting infected from someone who, either is breathing, or coughing, or sneezing, or singing or whatever it is in which the droplets or the aerosols go out. So, masks work."
The downfall with taking Fauci’s recent push for wearing masks, is people are still leery because of an interview he had on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. In that interview, he was asked that if masks are so important, why weren’t Americans told to wear them from the beginning. His response was nerve-wracking.
"Well, the reason for that is that we were concerned the public health community, and many people were saying this, were concerned that it was at a time when personal protective equipment, including the N95 masks and the surgical masks, were in very short supply,” Fauci said. “And we wanted to make sure that the people namely, the health care workers, who were brave enough to put themselves in a harm way, to take care of people who you know were infected with the coronavirus and the danger of them getting infected."
So, how can Americans take what this man says at face value, when he admitted that they told the people masks were not important in the beginning to keep from running out of them.
The debate of wearing a mask may have began with public official’s differing outlooks on the need for them, however, it most certainly has not ended there.
The entire nation has been completely divided on the importance of masks. The pendulum on the spectrum has swung drastically on either side of the debate. Some people believe that they need to wear a mask if they do anything outside of the house and others believe wearing a mask makes them a “sheeple” – a lemming that follows the crowd like sheep.
The worst part about the entire situation is deciding to wear a mask is not so black and white as many people think. Some people say, “just wear the mask.” For some, it is not so simple.
Besides the obvious medical reasons for not wearing one – asthma, COPD, chronic bronchitis and emphysema – there are also other issues that make it difficult for a person to wear a mask.
Anxiety and PTSD are two major factors that make it difficult for somebody to wear a mask. Anxiety can make the person feel as if they are trapped, or boxed in. People who suffer from PTSD might feel it worse because they survived some type of trauma that caused the PTSD.
For some people, they might be feeling as if they do not have a choice. If a person was robbed by a person wearing a mask, the mask might be the trigger for them.
For some people, especially ones who have been in battle zones, wearing the mask makes them hyper alert. One might think that being hyper alert is a good thing. It is not for somebody who has been in a war.
Their heightened senses take over their rational side, and now, they feel as if they are back in the battle. They might react to something before realizing that it is not the correct response. Shopping at a store during a pandemic is stressful enough for a person without a psychiatric or medical disorder. The added stress might prove to be too much for somebody dealing with anxiety or PTSD.
Providence is a medical website that offers suggestions on how to overcome mask anxiety. The website gives instructions on how to set up and get ready for the exercises. It states to:
- Practice up to 1 hour a day and monitor anxiety levels of a 1 to 10 scale (1 being the lowest anxiety and 10 being the highest).
- When anxiety rating remains below a 4/10 by the end for 3 days in a row, you are ready to move on to the next step.
- Practice the diaphragmatic circle breathing technique (breathe into the count of 4, breathe out to the count of 6, which soft sagging shoulders and legs out loose and relaxed) by doing the following:
- Sit comfortably with head and neck relaxed
- Place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach
- Slowly breathe through your nose so your stomach extends
- Tighten your stomach muscles and let the move inward as you exhale through your mouth.
Once that is successfully done, begin the exercises below.
Exercises (in progressive order)
- 30-minutes of diaphragmatic circle breathing: breathe into the count of 4, breathe out to the count of 6, which soft sagging shoulders and legs out loose and relaxed – do that daily for one week while holding the mask in your lap;
- Same breathing techniques as above, now holding mask up to face;
- Same breathing techniques as above, now wearing mask with straps over the ears;
- Same breathing techniques as above, now practicing walking around your home while wearing the mask;
- Practice wearing mask while talking to people inside your home;
- Progress to wearing mask outside of the home environment for walks, trips to the stores, etc.
Progress through each step after being able to tolerate each step for at least 45-minutes with limited anxiety or discomfort (4/10 or below).