Why I Still Wear A Mask

A Reason I Promise You Haven't Heard But You May Steal From Me If You Suffer From My Specific Flavor Of Anxiety.

I started a new job 3 weeks ago which now takes away 25+ hours of my week if you include commute and prep time. This is also the beginning of swim team season and I have what is - essentially - a full time job being the parent rep without the benefit of a year shadowing to teach me what the heck I'm doing. This means my anxiety level has been at an ALL TIME HIGH. Like...the highest it's been since peak pandemic/caring for Mom in 2020 time. And do you know what has been saving me?

Talking to myself under my mask when I'm in public.

When I first started wearing a mask early in the pandemic, not many other people were doing it yet. There was no mandate, the CDC has just started telling people to wear masks after that initial instruction not to. I was VERY self-conscious wearing the mask (my how times have changed) and to cope with my anxiety, I would talk to myself softly/quietly under my mask. This is a trick many with anxiety learn: When you vocalize, you can only worry about the one thing you're talking about so it calms the 1,000 other voices down momentarily. Writing does the same thing. They both force you to focus on *one* thing which - for an anxious brain - is a relief. Especially if you can make that one thing a coping response and not just a worry spiral.

So, I would just keep saying to myself, "You take care of your Mom in poor health. You're wearing a mask for her. You're taking care of your Mom in poor health. You're wearing a mask for her." Out loud, but softly and barely moving my mouth so that through my mask --- YOU COULD NOT TELL A THING. And this worked miracles for me. It turned out to be so handy of a way to calm an anxiety spiral, that I started talking to myself under my mask to get through any anxious moment in time. If I was worrying about something political or some sort of current event, if I was worrying about something going on with my kids, I would just get my groceries and talk to myself as I walked around the store...using my calming tools or coping mechanisms that I've learned in therapy; or I would simply repeat one of my mantras I use to reassure myself. There are a lot of tricks I have up my sleeve for when I'm spiraling and almost all of them have a, "Talk To Yourself" variation I can use, but I usually do them when I am alone, like in the car driving.

But for the last 14 months? I've been able to do it WHENEVER I WANT.

So yesterday at Target when I was shopping for a printer which I desperately need for the 5,000 things I have to print up for swim team...I was whispering to myself under my mask, "No one dies if you can't figure out how to print the labels for ribbons on site at the swim meet. Worse-case scenario, you recruit your teenage daughter and you two can stay up all night label ribbons by hand. Nothing catastrophic will happen if you can't figure this out.

This is called the "worse case scenario" exercise. When you're worrying about something relatively benign (not life or death related) you work through what will actually happen if the worse-case-scenario occurs and it forces you to realize - Wait, even that isn't *that* big of a deal. All things are survivable.

So, if you see me wearing a mask in public from now until the end of time...it actually might not have anything to do with physical health or contagions or even politics or supporting science...it may simply be because I'm spiraling and I need the mask to cover that I’m reciting mantras/practicing coping mechanisms that would otherwise scare people if they could see me talking to myself.