What wearing a mask has to do with taking control of your life

by Heather Thatcher

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I know this may sound like I’m stating the obvious, but all health care workers weren’t born with some gene that makes it easier for them to wear a mask all day.

It’s not like we don’t also suffer from claustrophobia.

I’m a VERY claustrophobic person.

If I’m on the bus and someone’s arm is touching mine I have to really focus and remind myself to breathe, that it’s okay, that I’m safe and not going to die.

I literally have to remind myself that I’m not going to die.

That was the conversation I had with myself every day on the train heading to work.

The first time I wore a mask in nursing school I nearly passed out.

I felt dizzy, lightheaded, my heart was racing – but the truth is, I had no choice. 

I was in the operating room watching a surgery and I couldn’t leave.

It was either pass out and take the attention away from the patient getting surgery, or figure out a way to manage this panic setting in.

It didn’t take me long to get used to the mask.

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Thinking back, there were only rare instances over my decade long hospital nursing career where I needed to remind myself that I wasn’t going to die – it’s just a face mask.

The truth is health care professionals aren’t special or have some special training to get used to wearing a face mask.

Wearing a Facemask 101 wasn’t in any of my courses for my degree.

The truth is, we aren’t special in healthcare born with some innate ability to make wearing a mask easier for us. They are still uncomfortable and make us nervous sometimes, too.

We learn to deal with the discomfort because it’s part of the job that allows us to care for others and share our compassion.

Do I sometimes forget that I’m even wearing a mask?


Do I sometimes have to talk myself down from panicking when it’s really hot and I’m allowing the mask to make me feel claustrophobic?


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Wearing a mask has nothing to do with comfort. It has to do with compassion.

We go through so much of our lives caring for others and being such an incredibly compassionate person.

We’re generous with our time, energy and resources and are quick to step up to help someone when they need it.

Wearing a mask is an outward sign that you are a compassionate person.

It proves that you’re willing to commit to this core value, even when it’s uncomfortable.

We all know that wearing a non-medical mask has very little to do with protecting us – all the science shows us that. 

But just like you’ve been doing throughout the rest of this pandemic, you’re stepping up and helping keep other people safe. This is the same.

So whether your area has made wearing a non-medical mask mandatory or not, you know it’s the right thing to do.

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Here are some strategies to help make wearing a mask easier to manage, especially in the early stages where it’s making you feel light-headed and claustrophobic.

#1 – Focus on taking slower, deeper conscious breaths while wearing it.

It’s in our nature to start breathing more shallowly and faster when our face gets covered. This is a survival mechanism that is done automatically without you being conscious of it.

Luckily, we have the power to control our breathing!

When you put the mask on start by paying attention to slowing down your breathing and taking long, deep breaths. Anytimes you start to feel a bit light-headed or dizzy, come back to this and take a few slow deep breaths to reset.

#2 – Practice at home first

It’s going to be a heck of a lot easier to get used to wearing your non-medical mask if you practice wearing it at home.

Put it on while you watch TV or while you cook dinner (it will also cut down on nibbling and taste testing while you cook – bonus!) 

Start small and work your way up to being able to wear it for longer times. 

#3 – Remember who you’re doing this for

When in doubt, come back to your compassionate nature that really, truly cares about the other people around you. 

You don’t know that someone you pass at the grocery store goes home to their 96 year-old father that they are the care-taker for. The mask they’re wearing won’t protect them from passing COVID-19 onto their father – but your mask will save that 96 year-old man from having to die from COVID-19.

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Like I said before, wearing a mask is now an outward sign that shows you care about others, and that you’re compassionate and kind.

Yes, I know it’s uncomfortable.

But wearing a mask in public places like this all the time is only temporary.

Granted it might be a year or two of this…

But it’s not going to last forever.

Even if it does become the norm, by doing the work now to get used to the mask you’re going to be setting yourself up for success no matter what comes in the future.

Remember: it’s completely normal to put on a mask and feel incredibly uncomfortable.

But the truth is life is uncomfortable sometimes and we have to push ourselves out of our comfort zone in order to grow.

Sometimes we have to move forward scared, unsure, and wishing that things could be different.

We talk about Accepting Radical Responsibility for your life as pillar one of the Ultimate Life Survival Guide and this is one of those cases where we can apply it.

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Accepting radical responsibility means that we’re choosing to accept the current situations and circumstances as they are, and deciding what we want our perspective to be.

We’re choosing how we want to respond.

We’re choosing to not react and go against our core beliefs.

The way I see it you can either choose to let the mask win, or you can choose to figure out how to make it work to protect other people around you.

You can choose to see that masks are uncomfortable and decide to stop wearing it.

Or you can choose to see that masks are uncomfortable, but commit to figuring out how to get used to it so that you can continue to look after the people around you.

Your success in wearing a non-medical mask is entirely dependent on your ability to take control of your life and to choose to be more than your emotional panic. 

As one highly claustrophobic person who can successfully wear a mask with full PPE for an entire 12 hour shift – I promise if you put these three things into practice you’ll be able to wear a mask for 30 minutes in a grocery store.

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