Dealing with Health Anxiety as Mask Requirements End in WA

Dealing with Health Anxiety as Mask Requirements End in WA

Mask requirements are coming to an end in Washington state on Saturday, more than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the transition could be stressful for some. Dr. Trenton James – a psychiatrist for Kaiser Permanente in Seattle – said stress, fear and exhaustion are normal responses to this health crisis.

He said people shouldn’t ignore the strain the pandemic has put on mental health – and can take care of themselves in other ways to help alleviate that stress.

“Identify good self-care routines and stick to them,” said James. “You know, I often encourage my patients to be kind to yourself and focus on the basics, like going for daily walks. Even being able to go outside and enjoy the sunshine, when we do get it, and breathing in fresh air.”

Washington, California and Oregon have all decided to lift mask requirements for indoor settings on Saturday.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also has revised its recommendations, saying people who aren’t in counties with high transmission rates can go without masks.

But Kaiser Permanente and other hospitals in the Evergreen State still are recommending that people wear masks in crowded settings and public indoor spaces.

James said many folks are feeling COVID fatigue and some are even angry at the policies designed to keep people safe. He described these as typically secondary expressions that stem from fear, anxiety and depression.

“Another really important thing is just to be able to seek out help when you’re overwhelmed,” said James. “And there’s a lot of uncertainty right now, but keeping in mind that this won’t last forever.”

James said it’s also important to keep in mind that official guidance on masks and other safety policies could evolve as the pandemic continues, so people should follow the latest guidance from state and federal authorities.

Disclosure: Kaiser Health Plan of Washington Project contributes to our fund for reporting on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Health Issues, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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