Face masks: The feelings behind the fabric

By Emily Byrne, Marketing Executive at YUDU Sentinel

Welcome to the weird world of Covid-19 where the new normal means wearing a mask to cover your face. As from 24th July 2020 it became mandatory in the UK to wear a face mask in all shops and on public transport.

This blog explores how wearing a face mask makes us feel and provides suggestions on how we might tackle the anxiety associated with face masks and change our thoughts and behaviours as we face the mask-wearing future. With thanks to Simon Erksine and Commpro.biz for inspiring this article: https://www.commpro.biz/masks-in-the-time-of-coronavirus-we-need-to-overcome-mask-phobia/

The erosion of social interaction

Let’s talk about the psychology of masks, behavioural change and what we can do to make wearing a mask a little less anxiety-inducing.

Ed Jones, Lead Marketing Strategist at YUDU Sentinel gave me his opinion on how wearing a face mask makes him feel:

“Personally, I don’t like face masks. Of course, I understand the need to wear one, which I always do when I’m in a shop. But it’s not a pleasant experience, I constantly feel like I’m breathing recycled warm air. I also don’t like the way it interferes with my social interactions. It’s much harder to see people’s reactions, sharing a smile is a thing of the past. Honestly, I hope this is a passing phase and we can soon return to some semblance of normal.”

Ed raised a valuable point: When the ability to socially interact with those around us in public is taken away (the smile at a stranger passing in the street or the lady at the corner shop), how does this affect us psychologically?

Face masks restrict our social interaction, particularly the small interactions with those we haven’t met or encounter whilst undertaking our daily journeys and duties. Many who already feel lonely or isolated in society (particularly post-lockdown) may depend on these meaningful everyday interactions to achieve a sense of feeling human and face masks restrict this.Face masks set up social barriers and avenues for misunderstanding.

Barriers are further increased for those with disabilities. In a survey conducted by Disability Rights UK 40% of disabled people feared challenge when travelling on public transport with face masks and also without if unable to do so due to a medical condition. Consider those with impaired hearing, using lip reading to get through conversation. 13% said wearing a mask would prevent them from lip reading. Just under half of those asked said mental health conditions or breathing impairments would prevent them from wearing a mask. See the full results of the survey here: https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2020/june/40-fear-challenge-without-face-masks-dr-uk-survey

Exemptions are made for those with disabilities and mental health conditions which prevent them from wearing a mask. It’s encouraging to hear announcements explaining this at Kings Cross and throughout the London Underground. Those unable to wear masks shouldn’t be alienated or judged.

The mind and the mask

There’s no denying that wearing a mask is a truly unpleasant experience, though we can shift our way of thinking when it comes to mask wearing so our rational brains can win out. Changing our behaviours to benefit others is generally much harder than when we change our behaviours for ourselves. However, it’s ourselves as well as others we’re protecting by wearing a face mask.

Behavioural change is often a slow process, requiring a conscious evaluation that the benefits of change outweigh the consequences of doing nothing at all. In this case, change has been thrust upon us in order to save lives and we must do all we can to embrace it. The consequences of doing nothing could be life-threatening. So, here’s what you can do to make wearing a face mask a little less daunting.

  • Diaphragmatic breathing

Try breathing from the diaphragm, which will make your tummy expand in and out, instead of your chest going up and down, indicative of shallow breathing. Spend more time exhaling than inhaling. Perhaps inhale for three seconds and exhale for four.

  • Repeat a mantra

Try repeating a word, phrase of even sound which helps you focus. If you’re concerned about getting strange looks, you can repeat this mantra to yourself in your head. Maybe this is something as simple as: ‘This too shall pass’. Repeating a mantra can help regulate breathing and slow down physical responses.

  • Practice mindfulness

Focus on what’s happening in the present moment instead of immersing yourself in self-created worries and negative thoughts.

  • Aromatherapy

Inhaling essential oils such as lavender and orange oils can relieve anxiousness and encourage a sense of calm relaxation. Perhaps try these natural remedies out before your trip to the supermarket to help uplift your spirits.

I hope the above tips help to alleviate your face mask anxieties.With thanks and credit to Beak Speak: https://blog.beekley.com/why-protective-face-masks-make-you-feel-anxious-and-what-you-can-do-to-cope

Take-aways

Wearing a mask is something we’re not used to and it makes us feel strange. It takes away social interaction, creates barriers for those with disabilities and can have a negative affect on our psychology and mental health. However, whilst hoping normality returns sometime soon, in an attempt to overcome mask-phobia we should consider a new way of thinking and remember the facts behind the fabric. Wearing a mask will protect you and others. Although masks don’t guarantee we won’t catch Coronavirus, they reduce the risk of the virus spreading if we use them correctly. For now, let’s focus on the fact face masks allow us to take better care of ourselves and the community around us during Covid-19. They really can save lives.

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