September 2, 2020

How to Overcome Mask Anxiety

Reduce the stress with a few helpful tips from a psychiatrist

woman wearing a mask at work because of covid

So far, face mask conversations seem to go one of two ways — a debate about why people will wear one or a debate about why they won’t wear one. But in the middle of the polarization, there’s another stance that we might not be taking into consideration. Some people might want to wear masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19, however, the thought of actually doing it can cause a great deal of stress or even panic. This is known as mask anxiety.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Mask anxiety is a very real thing for people who have anxiety disorders or a history of claustrophobia. Psychiatrist Brian Barnett, MD, says the symptoms can manifest psychologically or physically.

“While some people with mask anxiety may experience only psychological manifestations, others may have symptoms such as rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, chest tightness, sweats and dizziness,” says Dr. Barnett. But for those who’ve never felt these sensations before, he adds that it can be overwhelming and difficult to understand that the symptoms they’re experiencing are actually related to anxiety.

Can you work through your mask anxiety?

While it might take help from a professional, Dr. Barnett says that it is possible to overcome mask anxiety. It can be done with the assistance of medication, therapy or a mindset change.


“Mask anxiety, like most forms of anxiety, can be overcome either through self-directed interventions or by seeking professional help through cognitive behavioral therapy or anti-anxiety medications,” says Dr. Barnett.

Here, he shares a few things that you can do at home to help make the process less stressful.

Try exploring different types of masks and wear them around the house

To desensitize yourself to the sensation of the mask on your face, Dr. Barnett suggests wearing one at home so when you have to put a mask on in public, it’s no big deal after a while. If necessary, start with small stretches of time and then try to tolerate your mask for longer periods. Dr. Barnett says many people find shopping for the right style and type of mask fun and empowering. And for a more personalized and calming touch, try adding aromatherapy scents to make the mask more tolerable.


Challenge anxious thoughts

This includes being afraid that the airflow to your lungs is being reduced when you wear a mask. Dr. Barnett says to keep in mind that health professionals have been wearing masks regularly for more than a century without any adverse health effects. He also suggests reminding yourself that contracting COVID-19 while not wearing a mask is far more dangerous to your health than feeling uncomfortable while wearing one is. And don’t forget that wearing a mask, even if it makes you anxious, is one of the few ways that you can maintain control over this unsettling situation.

Talk to a professional

Thicker masks can provoke mask anxiety for some people. In this case, Dr. Barnett recommends finding a cloth mask that’s more comfortable or giving a surgical mask a try. If the switch doesn’t help and your anxiety starts to get in the way of your safety by preventing you from wearing a mask, seek professional help. Cognitive behavioral therapy or exposure therapy may be necessary to help reduce or even eliminate your mask anxiety.

Related Articles

tense woman watching TV
July 9, 2021
Is Your Love of True Crime Impacting Your Mental Health?

How taking in too many gruesome stories can impact your well-being

A vaccine syringe in front of a passport for international travel.
December 5, 2023
Which Vaccines Are Required To Travel?

Plan early — getting the right vaccines can help you stay healthy on your travels

Person overheated lying on chair on the beach; heart rythym next to him
December 5, 2023
How the Heat Can Affect Your Heart

Sizzling temperatures force your heart to work much harder

nocovaine needle entering mouth with dental mirror
December 4, 2023
How Long Does Novocaine Last?

The numbness and tingling should wear off in about two hours

bearded man sitting crosslegged holding clock in one hand, calendar in other
December 4, 2023
Are Bare Minimum Mondays Good for Your Mental Health?

Rethinking your Mondays might make the ‘Sunday scaries’ a thing of the past

A sad couple standing on each side of a large broken heart
December 4, 2023
Yes, You Can Die From a Broken Heart — But No, It’s Not Likely at All

The emotional toll of loss and other strong emotions can have life-threatening physical effects

Closeup of shingles virus presenting on shoulder of person
December 4, 2023
Is the Shingles Vaccine Worthwhile?

It’s 97% effective in preventing shingles in people between the ages of 50 and 69

Notes taped to window of possible new year's resolutions with hand in foreground holding marker.
December 1, 2023
How To Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

Pick specific, measurable goals, but also be open to changing them if need be

Trending Topics

group of hands holding different beverages
November 14, 2023
10 Myths About Drinking Alcohol You Should Stop Repeating

Coffee won’t cure a hangover and you definitely shouldn’t mix your cocktail with an energy drink

Person applies moisturizer as part of their skin care routine after a shower.
November 10, 2023
Korean Skin Care Routines: What You Need To Know

Focus on the philosophy — replenishing and respecting your skin — not necessarily the steps

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
November 8, 2023
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try