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Avoiding 'mask anxiety': The best thing to do is what makes you feel safe, mental health expert says

Erin Wiley, the executive director at the Willow Center, says it's normal to feel uncomfortable at times as you ease into a new norm along with society.

TOLEDO, Ohio — After a year of COVID, health orders are a thing of the past, with all orders being lifted about two weeks ago. 

Some say they are still trying to get used to things while doing their part to keep others safe. 

"For a while, it was like I was still wearing my mask, and I'm finally like okay, alright I'm vaccinated. It's time to take it off," said Mackenzie Chojnacky, a shopper at Monnette's Market on Glendale Avenue.

Shoppers at Monnette's Market say the strangest things are no longer having to wear a mask or worrying about social distancing. 

"Because it's kinda something I've gotten used to now, is wearing a mask. And the social distancing. A lot of people don't social distance anymore. So I have to get used to that too," said Lavonda Harkmess, who was wearing her mask while shopping at Monnette's Market. 

If you're feeling the same way, licensed counselor Erin Wiley says you're not alone. 

"People are so ready and so excited to be able to go out and not wear a mask, and to have family events and to go to concerts. But then it just feels so foreign and so strange and we've been so aware of protecting ourselves for so long, that it just seems a little anxiety-provoking to not be following all the precautions," said Wiley, the executive director, at The Willow Center

Wiley says this happens because our brains are wired to protect us and part of that has to do with fitting in with society.

"To fit in and do things that are considered appropriate to your culture is a life-saving technique that we all do. Everyone wants to fit in, and so I do think people are kinda double-checking like, is this group wearing a mask? Are they not? How will I be perceived if I do or do not," said Wiley. 

And it's okay to feel uncomfortable at times, but the biggest message is to do what keeps you the safest. 

"I got vaccinated too, but I have a child at home. So you know, to be safe it's good to wear a mask, right?" said Vijaya Adhikari, who wore his mask while shopping at Monnette's Market. 

"I think the best thing to do is focus on what you need to do for your own health and try to live in a place where you gracefully let others do whatever they choose to do. And decided to not be offended by it. Instead, focus on what is right for you and your family instead," said Wiley. 

That's whether you're out at the grocery store, or out in public.

We reached out to Mercy Health to check on COVID case numbers since the orders were lifted. A spokesperson says cases have remained, for the most part, steady.