Throughout the pandemic, health officials emphasized the importance of wearing a mask to protect yourself and others. The news from the CDC that vaccinated New Yorkers can now ditch the mask in most situations came as a surprise for many, and while some jumped at the chance, others aren't quite ready yet. In fact, the thought of not wearing a mask can cause a lot of stress.
"Some of that future uncertainty, a sense of not knowing what to expect, can really fuel and slip into our anxiety," said Dr. Shannon O'Neill, a psychologist at Mount Sinai Hospital. "I think something that is really, really helpful for people is to just rest assured that although there's changes happening with rules, specifically in New York State as of today, they can really go at their own pace. Their behavior doesn't have to change just because the rules are changing themselves."
O'Neill told NY1's Ruschell Boone that it's important to take your time and be patient with yourself.
One common treatment for anxiety is exposure therapy, meaning instead of avoiding what is feared, you should take baby steps to lean into those activities. O'Neill said while technology was helpful in allowing us to stay home, it can become an over-accommodation and in fact fuel more anxiety.
She said easing into the guidelines could start with going on a walk by yourself without a mask during a quiet time in the morning, potentially leading up to having a group outing with other vaccinated people unmasked.
Before going out, O'Neill advised having a plan, and identifying what you are willing to tolerate when it comes to group size, mask use and other factors.
"When there's so many things that are uncertain for us, and so many things that are out of our control, things that can allow for a little bit more predictability and certainty can be helpful," she said. "So identifying what is actually in your control can reduce a little bit more of the stressors."
While some sense of anxiety is normal, O'Neill said when it is starting to impact daily activities and functioning, it's a good time to reach out to a health provider. She also said you can implement exposure therapy by starting with a telehealth visit and working your way up to seeing the provider in person.