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Easing back in to mask-free activities

An unmasked woman in the grocery store.

March 18, 2022—Feeling nervous about the end of mask mandates? That's understandable. Masks have been a prominent way to stay safe—and protect others—during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is OK to go mask-free in many areas, many restaurants, stores and other businesses no longer require face masks. You might be glad to set yours aside. But if you're feeling a bit nervous about the change, consider the following tips. They're based on advice from HelpGuide about how to manage anxiety.

Do what's best for you. It's perfectly fine if you decide to keep masking up for a while longer, especially if you or someone you spend time with is at higher risk of severe COVID-19. And it's OK if you don't feel comfortable going to a movie or mall just yet. Start with small steps, such as dining outdoors with a small group of friends.

Talk about it—in an honest way. Let your friends and loved ones know what you're feeling. It may help you feel better. Be honest about your comfort level. Let them know about any activities you're not ready to do.

Remember: You're not alone. Other people might be just as anxious—whether they are wearing masks or not. So do your best to be in the moment and engage with the people around you. Focusing on others can help you avoid focusing on your own worries.

Say no to negative self-talk. If negative thoughts start to creep in, try to replace them with positive ones. For instance, do you still fear getting the virus? If so, it may help to remind yourself that being fully vaccinated can help protect you from COVID-19—especially if you're up-to-date with your booster shot.

Just breathe. When you feel a worry coming on, take a few deep breaths. It's best to find a quiet area for this. Notice how your belly rises and falls with each breath. Breathing is one way to practice mindfulness. This may help you stay calm. And it helps your mind focus on the present—instead of worries about the future.

Get enough sleep. A good night's rest can help you feel less anxious before a social event—or a return to in-person work. Can't sleep? Don't let yourself scroll through newsfeeds. In fact, consider shutting down screens well ahead of your bedtime.

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