5 tips for managing anxiety at the end of mask mandates

[5 MIN READ]

In this article:

  • The relaxation of COVID-19 guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and

  • Prevention (CDC) can make you anxious.

  • There are ways to help you feel less worried about the transition, including understanding where the anxiety is coming from and taking care of yourself.

  • Take it easy and be gentle with yourself. You can also talk to a doctor if you still suffer from anxiety.

This spring marks the first time in nearly two years that most people in the United States have not been asked 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) relaxed its COVID-19-related masking guidelines.

The percentage of Americans who live in an area that the CDC considers low or medium level of community spread of COVID-19 continues to rise. That means communities where levels are high and where the CDC still recommends wearing a mask in an indoor public place are getting fewer by the day. (The CDC recommends that people who are at high risk of severe illness from the virus and who live in medium- or high-risk areas speak with their doctor about whether they should wear a mask.) Figures are updated daily – make sure to check where your community ranks in the community propagation data.

Some people celebrate the change in direction, while others feel anxious. Masks may have helped them feel more comfortable and protected during the pandemic, and now that feeling of protection is gone.

If you’re having trouble with rolling back COVID-19 safety measures, here are five tips you can use to help ease the transition:

1. Trust the science

If, at the height of the pandemic, you relied on reliable sources to guide you on the best steps to take for you and your family, trust that you still can. The CDC uses the latest data to assess risks and revise science-based public health recommendations.

The recent rollback is the result of changing the metrics the CDC uses to assess the risk of COVID-19. Three factors are now measured to determine a county’s risk:

  • New cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 population in the past seven days
  • New hospital admissions related to COVID-19
  • The percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients

Based on these factors, the CDC places counties into one of three groups – high, medium, or low local risk for COVID-19. The revised guidelines focus on reducing serious illness from the virus and strain on the healthcare system. Prior to the Feb. 25 announcement, the CDC assessed risk based on a county’s case count and positive test rates.

The agency relaxed the guidelines due to reduced risks from the Omicron variant and a significant drop in cases nationwide. He also dropped universal school mask mandates in counties where the risk is considered low or medium. The CDC has rescinded school mask recommendations in most places because data has shown children are at a relatively lower risk of serious illness with the virus.

2. Take it easy

Just because the CDC no longer advises most Americans to wear a mask indoors doesn’t mean you can’t wear one anymore. It took most people months to get used to the mask and social distancing protocols when they were introduced. It makes sense that getting used to living without them also takes time.

In the Feb. 25 announcement, 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 masking guidelines could change again, depending on how the pandemic evolves.

So throwing off your masks and no longer being careful doesn’t necessarily make sense. But trying to adapt – again – to the new normal is a good idea. Remember to take the transition slowly. If you were uncomfortable going to crowded places when cases were high, maybe try meeting friends in a park for a walk. Or go to a restaurant or the grocery store during off-peak hours.

Once you are more comfortable with these activities, you can progress from there.

Having something you could control during the pandemic, like wearing a mask and staying socially distant, 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 unfamiliar situation. Now, you may feel like you are being told that you must face the unknown without any defenses.

That’s not entirely true, however. Today we have the protection of vaccines.

Although they don’t provide the same physical comfort as a mask, vaccines protect you and your loved ones from COVID-19 infection and serious illness. Although vaccines work, studies have shown their effectiveness to decline over time, so be sure to get a booster shot if you’re eligible.

Currently, the CDC recommends that 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. People between the ages of 12 and 18 should receive a booster dose of Pfizer at least five months after their series of vaccines.

4. Try to take care of yourself

There are several ways to combat anxious feelings. Most of them just involve taking care of yourself. Making sure you’re getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating nutrient-dense foods is the best way to do this. And drink lots of water. But there are other ways to reduce anxiety.

These include:

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Logging
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Reading
  • Yoga

You can also try reframing your thoughts, constantly asking yourself “what if” questions, for example, focusing instead on the present and the real risk 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 uncomfortable. And that’s OK. Remember that it will take time for you to feel safe entering a public place without a mask.

Also, remember that this is not a one-off situation. The rest of your family may be ready to do things that you are not yet ready to do. Treat yourself and those around you with kindness and flexibility during this transition.

You have withstood two years of pandemic. By acknowledging anxious thoughts, trusting public health recommendations, slowly adjusting, and taking time to take care of yourself, you can overcome this next phase as well.

You can also talk with your doctor about your anxious feelings. They may be able to explain why removing the mask now is considered safe and help you feel confident in current advice.

Find a doctor

If you are looking for a primary care physician or mental health care provider, you can find the right one for you in our provider directory.

Related Resources

Get relevant and up-to-date information about the coronavirus (COVID-19) from Providence

COVID-19 Incubation Calendar: When Am I Contagious?

The COVID-19 vaccine and children: what you need to know

What should I know about the omicron variant?

This information is not intended to replace professional medical care. Always follow the instructions of your healthcare professional.

About Rachel Gooch

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