Mental health experts share advice for stress management, mask-wearing habits during ongoing pandemic

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Posted at 5:47 PM, Jul 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-30 18:24:42-04

TAMPA, Fla.—The Delta variant is still a cause for concern as it continues to spread across the country, leading top health officials to update mask guidance this week. Now a change in recommendations may mean more stress and anxiety for some people, feeling the pandemic is taking a step backwards.

In May, the CDC eased its indoor mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, but more than two months later, the agency is instead asking the fully vaccinated to wear a mask in public indoor settings if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission.

“There are many, many others who are going to see this as, ‘Oh no. It’s the same thing again. I know how bad it was before. It’s going to be just as bad or worse,’ and of course, that can provoke anxiety,” said Dr. Ryan Wagoner, the Vice Chair for Clinical Services at USF’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences Department.

Dr. Wagoner explains it’s normal to have feelings of stress and anxiety come back again and shares there are some things you can do to help manage them. First, he says try to avoid getting too caught up in all the noise.

Secondly, he reminds people that physical isolation or distancing does not equal social isolation.

“For example, if you really liked going back to restaurants, but you’re just not comfortable with that now, that’s okay, but still, try to maintain those social interactions in some way throughout this, because if you don’t, then that’s when that isolation is going to creep in much more like it did,” said Wagoner.

He also says know yourself and what you’re comfortable with so you can set expectations.

“What I would tell you to avoid doing is doing things that you’re uncomfortable with because then that leaves you with this lingering anxiety and doubt, 'Should I have done that? I feel terrible for doing that,” said Wagoner.

Dr. Wagoner suggests asking friends and family how they’re doing too. For those people who are re-introducing masking habits in certain areas, he says think of how you built it into your routine before and to remember part of the reason you’re wearing them is to help put an end to the ongoing health crisis.

“If we can get this to the point where COVID is under control and it’s not spreading, then you won’t have to do this some point in the future,” said Wagoner.