By Emily Byrne
Header Image by Tony Hazek
Welcome to the weird world of Covid-19 where the new normal means wearing a mask to cover your face. Nobody looks human and it reminds us of the deadly virus out there. As from 24th July 2020 it became mandatory in the UK to wear a face mask in all shops and on public transport. This article explores how wearing a face mask makes us feel, in the UK, the US and globally. It provides suggestions on how we might tackle the anxiety associated with wearing a face mask and change our thoughts and behaviours as we face this new normal. 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 UK, the US and the anti-mask movement
Although most are compliant, mask-wearing is just one example in the Coronavirus pandemic highlighting the significant gap between what we are being asked to do and what many are doing.
Certainly is the case in the UK, that the government’s own disregard for the rules (I’m sure we all remember Dominic Cummings’ infamous lockdown tour) and the ambiguity surrounding what the ever-changing rules actually are results in some disobedience.
Let’s take a look at the US, where face-masks have sparked a political debate and the anti-mask movement. As the President, Donald Trump should be setting an example for the country… (don’t get me started). Trump’s refusal to wear a mask mirrors the attitude of many in the states. It also provides an excuse for many US citizens not to take this basic step. So begins the anti-mask movement.
Although they’re actually just a piece of cloth to protect us against contracting and spreading coronavirus, many of the US population see face masks as an attack on individual freedom, as outlined by this article from the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/29/face-masks-us-politics-coronavirus
Without generalizing, polls suggest that Democrats are largely more inclined to wear face masks in public, than Republicans. Joe Biden and Donald Trump are political figures symbolizing the for and against mask movement. Ever the controversial, Trump accused Biden of wearing a face mask as a political statement against his presidency. Perhaps Biden wears a mask to protect his own health, Mr President? Just a thought.
Reopen NC are a group based in North Carolina who oppose lockdown orders. They called masks “muzzles” and said face masks and mandatory temperature checks were “ways of [their] freedom being eroded.” The group sparked a social media movement and founded the “Burn Your Mask Challenge”, which encourages people to post videos of them burning their face masks under the hashtag #IgniteFreedom.
Local leaders met in Palm Beach, Florida, to hear people speak in public about why they were so anti-masks. Anger was voiced that masks “throw God’s wonderful breathing system out the door” and concerns over a “plan-demic” conspiracy theory were heard. Pretty nuts, huh?
Without leadership from the top, we need leadership from the bottom-up. We all need to set an example and take the basic initiative to wear a mask when required, in order to protect ourselves, our families, friends and communities.
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 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 such a valuable point which really got me thinking. 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 definitely 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. 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. It is worth considering exemptions can be made for those with disabilities which make them unable to wear a face mask and for those who this might cause major destress. Still, Sadly, for many, conversation in public may be a thing of the past. See the full results of the survey here: https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2020/june/40-fear-challenge-without-face-masks-dr-uk-survey
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. As displayed by the uproar in the US, 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’. It’s scientifically proven that 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.
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
Having fun with it: Funk up your face mask
Why not take inspiration from celebsville and treat your face mask as this year’s hottest new fashion accessory?
Many keen sewers are making money and helping the community all at once by selling handmade face masks. Why not chop up one of your favourite fabrics and give it a go yourself?
Personalised face masks are an excellent way to bring some positivity to these bleak times. Order and adorn a mask with your favourite punk band, characters from a beloved TV show, or even an inspirational quote on it. Whatever it is, be sure to have some fun with it!
How about copying the A-listers and coordinating your outfit with you mask? It’s called FASH-HUN and it will look extra as anything. Here’s a few examples:
Any and all of the above tips will make mask-wearing more fun, less daunting and feel less clinical and other-worldly.
Face masks in other cultures
Perhaps our reservations about wearing face masks stem from the difficulty: this is not part of our usual culture. It’s a change we’re all getting used to together in the UK and which faces major opposition in some cases in the US.
Simon Erksine comments on the practice of wearing face masks in Japan, where he lived for many years.
“In Japan, individual behaviours are much more focused on benefiting society as a whole. The wearing of masks is normal. It has a social and individual purpose. Vast numbers of Japanese suffer hay fever from the pollen of non-indigenous pine trees, but the Japanese also wear masks to protect from others’ potential illnesses as well as to protect others from theirs. In fact, if you have a cold it is basic manners to wear a mask.”
Erksine reminds us that in wearing a mask, you are doing something to benefit society. Read his full article here: https://www.commpro.biz/masks-in-the-time-of-coronavirus-we-need-to-overcome-mask-phobia/
Wearing a mask is something we’re not used to, it’s caused a small culture-war in the US, 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 cloth masks aren’t a prophylactic or can guarantee you won’t get the virus, just like seat belts, they will reduce the risk of spread and contagion 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.