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The Trick to Avoiding a COVID-19 Mask Induced Panic Attack

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In many parts of the U.S., new rules require citizens to wear facemasks whenever they leave home. The orders are meant to slow the spread of coronavirus and save lives.

But many teens feel wearing a mask is uncomfortable. It covers their mouth and nose. It gets hot. Now that it’s summertime, the heart make an extra layer on the face almost intolerable.

Teens With Anxiety or Panic Disorder

For teens with anxiety, panic disorder, or sensory processing issues, wearing a facemask might be especially uncomfortable and distressing. Adolescents who have panic attacks often find it hard to breathe, in general, and teens with anxiety may feel short of breath on a consistent basis. For these teens, wearing a facemask can make their symptoms even worse.

Dr. Robyn Koslowitz, PhD, director of the Targeted Parenting Institute, says children and teens who are susceptible to panic attacks “may feel like they’re in danger as soon as they put on the mask.”

Since the mask covers their mouth and nose, they may feel like their breathing is restricted, which causes them to panic.

That’s why she recommends the following breathing techniques – they trick your brain into thinking you have enough oxygen even when you feel like you really don’t.

How to Breathe When Wearing a Mask

Many people say wearing a mask makes them feel like they can’t breathe. If that’s you, and you feel a panic attack coming on – or you’re already panicking or hyperventilating – Dr. Koslowitz suggests the following:

  1. Breathe in for a count of 4 seconds
  2. Hold your breath for a count of 4 seconds
  3. Exhale slowly, for as long as you can

“By breathing in slowly and holding your breath for four seconds in the middle, you signal to your brain that you have much more oxygen than you actually think,” Dr. Koslowitz says. “This can forestall the panic attack you might otherwise get.”

Treatment for Teens with Anxiety or Panic Disorder

If your teen struggles with shortness of breath due to anxiety symptoms, get in touch with a mental health professional. They can recommend an adolescent intensive outpatient program, partial hospitalization program, or even a residential treatment center that specializes in treatment for teen anxiety.

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