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Mask or no mask: Managing anxiety in a reopening COVID-19 world

As more people begin to leave their masks at home, what should you do if you feel uncomfortable wearing your mask in a crowded space?

In April, seemingly everywhere you went, everyone was wearing a mask to protect themselves from COVID-19.

Grocery stores made them mandatory, as did businesses which remained open.

Today? The rules haven't changed -- the CDC still recommends people wear cloth face coverings. Even Governor Wolf reminded Pennsylvanians this week masks are still required, even if they live in a county in the green or yellow phase of the reopening plan.

However, as more businesses and cities begin to reopen, more people are leaving their face coverings at home, and that has the potential to make those who are wearing masks feel uncomfortable, according to Harrisburg area licensed counselor, Dr. Christopher Watts.

"When we see folks that may not follow those practices, they can draw some uneasy feelings," Dr. Watts said.

If you start to feel that anxiety, what do you do? 

Watts says your first step you want to do before even leaving the house. It's called priming, and is essentially visualizing the worst case scenarios in your mind ahead of time so you can plan multiple courses of action.

"If you come into a situation, how would you handle it? How can you handle it calmly? How can you remove yourself from the situation, if need be, so it doesn`t escalate and become even more catastrophic problem?" Watts said.

He adds if you're with your family, it's a great opportunity to show your children examples of conflict resolution.

Once you are out and about, Dr. Watts recommends always being mindful of your surroundings.

"Be mindful of your breathing as you start to have racing thoughts, if you are angry or anxious because you're fearful of COVID-19 transmission," Watts said. "We want to be mindful of our body language and take the necessary precautions to be safe in that environment."

As much as you might want to put someone on blast who is harassing you and post it all over social media, Dr. Watts says it is important to leave the camera phone in your pocket, as a way to de-escalate the situation.

"If we are engaging an individual, we need to recognize that they are taking it from a different lens or point of view than the recommended protocols," Watts said. "We want to be mindful that you don’t want to engage in a volatile confrontation so that additional problems may arise."

Dr. Watts also says it's OK to walk away from a situation. Whatever it is, it's likely not worth a physical confrontation.

"You’re trying to protect your family and others around you," Watts said. "Even in the most challenging situations, you are still rising above that challenge, rising above that conflict, and making good decisions not just for you but the individuals around you."