As face masks become increasingly de rigueur for millions of people living in Victoria and NSW, trauma experts are warning that face coverings can be triggering for some.
The Blue Knot Foundation says masks can trigger previous trauma experiences for survivors.
With the introduction of mandatory masks in Victoria, and other states increasingly advocating for their use, the foundation says it’s concerned for survivors of complex trauma.
“Many people with a history of trauma may be triggered when asked to wear a mask, or even when they see someone wearing a mask,” Blue Knot Foundation president Cathy Kezelman said on Monday.
“For other survivors it may reignite feelings of not being able to breathe, such as in the recent bushfires. Survivors may have been assaulted by a person wearing a mask and for others, the feeling of being trapped and helpless is all too familiar.
“It can cause feelings of panic and of being suffocated. So too is the discomfort of not being able to see another person’s face to help us read the non-verbal cues so we know what is happening,” Dr Kezelman said.
As a result, the Blue Knot Foundation has developed a list of strategies for trauma survivors who can be triggered if they are required to wear a mask – or interact with someone wearing a mask.
1. When triggered, try to recognise your body’s reactions and identify that you have been triggered, and that you are now wearing a mask to help you stay safe.
2. Try to limit the amount of time which you wear a mask, and increase it gradually.
3. Decorate your mask to see if it feels less threatening.
4. If you are triggered understand it is a normal reaction for you to have.
5. Breathe mindfully: breathe deeply down to your belly; breathing slower and deeper can help reduce panic.
6. Wear headphones and play soothing music.
7. Chewing, humming, chanting or singing can get key muscles working to stimulate an important nerve which can help calm the nervous system.
8. Building resilience with walks, long baths, meditation, connection with pets and nature.
9. Even when physically distanced, stay connected with people with whom you feel safe.
Speak with a Blue Knot Helpline trauma counsellor on 1300 657 380 (Monday – Sunday between 9am – 5pm AEST) or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.