Do you have no-mask anxiety? UAE psychologists share tips

Do you have no-mask anxiety? UAE psychologists share tips

Experts say that during transition periods, which typically last 6 weeks, one may experience symptoms of stress and anxiety

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SM Ayaz Zakir

Published: Fri 30 Sep 2022, 4:55 PM

Last updated: Fri 30 Sep 2022, 5:51 PM

As Covid rules ease across the country, residents are expressing mixed feelings towards the change in policy. However, psychologists in the UAE say that uncertainty is a part of change.

“During times of change and uncertainty, our minds and bodies respond both physiologically and emotionally. On one end of the spectrum, some people, especially those who may not be ready to have the masks removed yet, may feel powerless to circumstances out of their control,” said Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director of Lighthouse Arabia.

Dr Saliha Afridi
Dr Lakshmi Saranya, clinical psychologist, Zivanza Millennium Medical Centre, highlighted two main factors for a person to feel anxious without a mask.

“One is the general shyness in their personality and the other can be because of social anxiety disorder,” said Dr Saranya mentioning that people of different ages who are suffering from this kind of anxiety react differently. “An adolescent will be more concerned than an adult to remove the mask.”

During transition periods, which typically last six weeks, one may experience symptoms of stress and anxiety.

What to watch out for

Dr Afridi says that individuals with no-mask anxiety issues will most likely experience bouts of elevated anxiety with symptoms such as rapid heart rate or pressure in the chest, restlessness, feeling agitated and irritable, excess worry, tense muscles, being unable to sleep, and/or symptoms of panic attacks.

Dr Saranya categorised symptoms based on physical, behavioural and cognitive.

Physical symptoms can be sweating, trembling, blushing, pounding heart, having a shaky voice, choking sensations, and stiffness in the body.

Dr Lakshmi Saranya

Behaviour and emotional symptoms may include: avoidance of doing things or speaking to people out of fear of embarrassment, avoidance of situations where you might be the centre of attention, avoidance behaviours where you are fearing the spread of illness, low confidence, anxiety, and panic attacks.

Cognitive symptoms can be fear of situations in which you may be judged negatively, worrying about embarrassing or humiliating oneself, fear of interacting with others either because of fear or the spread of illness.

Psychologists affirmed that the point at which no-mask anxiety or any form of anxiety for that matter becomes concerning is when it consistently starts getting in the way of social, occupational, or academic functioning.

“A person unable to go out to the grocery store or to work because they feel afraid, or a person who is no longer socialising with people because they cannot stop thinking about the possibility of Covid-19 being amidst them,” said Dr Afridi.

“The best way to manage big changes is by approaching them intentionally,” added Dr Afridi.

Healthcare specialists mentioned that a few individuals worry about the fear of getting affected by Covid-19, but they should rely on the current statistics on the spread of the disease.

Doctors say that the no-mask anxiety is not a permanent problem. “It is very much possible to come out of this anxiety,” Dr Saranya added.

If you are struggling with no-mask anxiety, psychologists have shared some ways to cope with the difficult feelings.

  • Remember you have a choice: You can continue to wear the mask.
  • Take care of your physical body in times of change.
  • Get moving: Just 30 minutes a day of exercise at 75 per cent of your maximum heart rate will help you feel more in control.
  • Sleep plays a huge role in combatting anxiety.
  • Eat right: You are what you eat. If you eat junk, your mind will feel just as hollow and if you eat foods that are deeply fried, you will certainly feel that way in your mind too.
  • Stick to a routine. You can avoid crowded places or ask to work from home while you adjust or keep your N95 handy for when you feel anxious
  • Highlight the positive
  • Know and understand more about your fear
  • Think all the avoidance behaviours which you have as a result of the fear
  • Make a plan for changing this maladaptive behaviour to an adaptive behaviour
  • Break down the challenging situations in smaller parts and work toward facing these smaller parts
  • Build self-esteem and enhance the confidence level
  • Practice relaxation or mindfulness to deal with your anxiety symptoms

Healthcare specialists have urged people to talk to their friends or family. They have asked residents to meet a mental health professional, possibly a clinical psychologist/counsellor to correct their thoughts involved in this fear if the symptoms are very intense.

Treating anxiety

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): Helps you learn new ways to manage anxiety, for example, how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): Helps you to learn how to use mindfulness, acceptance, and behavioural strategies to be more present and figure out how to live a value-based life despite negative feelings.

Social skills training: This helps you learn social skills and techniques to interact with people in social settings. Working in a group will help you see that you’re not alone and enable role play of practical solutions.

Exposure therapy: A graded level of exposure to your fear will help you to face it.
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