Masks Off, Anxiety Up: Dealing with No-Mask Anxiety
After over a year of covering their faces, Americans across the country were told they could breathe freely earlier this year as mask mandates were lifted.
Unfortunately, the return to “normal” life hasn’t been smooth sailing for everyone. In fact, nearly half of Americans admit they have concerns about resuming in-person interactions, according to the American Psychological Association.
It appears as though the mental health issues brought about by the pandemic aren’t going away anytime soon.
Indeed, “no-mask anxiety” is real, and folks all over America are worried about life returning to the way it was before the pandemic.
What Is No-Mask Anxiety?
Like the name suggests, no-mask anxiety is a condition where people are scared about the prospect of taking off their masks in public.
Those affected by no-mask anxiety feel uneasy when they themselves don’t wear a face covering, and they can also be uncomfortable around others who are not wearing masks.
People of all ages can suffer from no-mask anxiety, including kids who are not yet vaccinated.
Worried you might be suffering from no-mask anxiety? Don’t be. Doctors say it’s completely normal — and will likely be an increasingly common diagnosis as we move further into the post-pandemic world.
The Why Behind No-Mask Anxiety
On top of general uncertainty about the future, there are a few reasons why folks might develop no-mask anxiety:
It’s become a habit.
Imagine Henry, a 45-year-old father of two.
For the first 44 years of his life, Henry never wore a mask. All of a sudden, in 2020, he wore a mask every day, each time he stepped out of his house.
Since research says it takes an average of 66 days to develop a new habit, it comes as no surprise that Henry now feels more or less “naked” without a mask on.
It feels like a security blanket.
Throughout the pandemic, masks have served as our front line of protection against the virus. While vaccinations are helping the world safely move past the pandemic, many still feel comforted by wearing a mask and were planning on wearing them for the foreseeable future.
Then, suddenly, the CDC updated its guidelines and said that folks who were fully vaccinated could return to pre-pandemic life. Expecting to wear a mask for some time and being told it was no longer required has been a difficult adjustment for many people.
“The only time I don’t have mine up is when I’m at home or driving my car,” Jenny Krislov, a resident of Madison, Wisconsin, told Spectrum News 1. “It almost feels like my security blanket.”
Krislov doesn’t only wear the mask to protect herself. She also wears it to protect her loved ones.
Unmasking can exacerbate social anxiety.
Those who have social anxiety live in fear that their peers will judge them for awkward or abnormal behavior in social settings. Simply put, people with social anxiety do everything they can to act “normal” and fit in with the crowd.
As the pandemic began, these individuals might have been hesitant to put their masks on in the first place out of concern they’d get weird looks. However, ever since masks were mandated and the vast majority of people complied, they were happy to mask up.
Now, as we transition to a post-pandemic world, social anxiety may be a bit higher than normal, according to David Moscovitch, a professor at the University of Waterloo. People who were nervous to be in public might have felt some comfort in being able to hide their faces. But in order to fit in now, they need to reveal their faces — which is causing some people to develop no-mask anxiety.
“Many people who didn’t struggle with social anxiety before the pandemic may find themselves feeling more anxious than usual as we emerge out of the pandemic and into a more uncertain future — especially within social situations where our social skills are rusty and the new rules for social engagement are yet to be written,” Moscovitch wrote in a recent paper.
Social anxiety got you shut down and isolated, hyper-vigilant and self-critical, or any other way that is blocking your path to a peaceful, full life? Don’t let anxiety define you. Reach out to a therapist near you today for help.
Resilience and Growing Through Change: How to Conquer No-Mask Anxiety
If you’re impacted by no-mask anxiety, you need to remember there’s nothing to be ashamed about. None of us have ever lived through a pandemic at the scale of COVID-19 before, so we will all need to adapt to varying degrees.
If you’re looking to conquer your no-mask anxiety, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1. Take your time.
Just because other people aren’t wearing masks doesn’t mean you have to take yours off, too.
Doctors say there’s nothing wrong with taking your time to ease back into a more open world.
“You can pick a safe place with safe people, and just gradually go from there,” Dr. Eric Berko of MetroHealth Medical Center told Cleveland’s Fox 8 News. “Keep a mask in your pocket. It’s OK if you feel uncomfortable, just put it on. There’s no harm or shame in any of that. Gradually get yourself out there, and I think you’ll start to feel better and better.”
2. Force yourself to be social.
As Robert Frost once wrote, the only way out is through.
If you find yourself saying no to social gatherings or wanting to keep your face mask on in supermarkets and retail shops, try to force yourself to do the opposite.
“Catch yourself when you’re choosing to avoid even when you aren’t being forced to do so by pandemic-related restrictions,” Moscovitch said. “Do your very best to summon the courage to push yourself to enter those situations and confront your anxiety.”
3. Find resilience.
According to Brené Brown, people who are resilient in the face of trauma tend to practice three specific acts:
- The Reckoning, where they admit that they’re feeling different feelings
- The Rumble, where they conduct a reality check on the narratives surrounding their struggles
- The Revolution, where they rewrite their stories and transform their mindset on a foundational level
If you’re struggling with no-mask anxiety — or any other effect of the pandemic — remember that you don’t have to wrestle the issue entirely on your own.
Start your search for a therapist who can guide you through your struggle and help you live a more fulfilling life today.
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