Anxiety Surrounding Masks As Restrictions Lift

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We are now almost a full month into the lift in COVID safety restrictions across the UK and people are still struggling to adjust to their normal, pre-pandemic routines. 

If you or a client are feeling anxious about removing your masks, you wouldn’t be the only ones. Therapists across the UK have seen increased anxiety surrounding the topic and have even come up with a term for it: No-Mask Anxiety

Why Are People Experiencing No-Mask Anxiety?

There are many reasons that one might feel anxious returning to life without wearing a mask, and any number of these reasons could contribute to clients feeling nervous, even as restrictions lift and life is supposed to return to “normal”.  

  1. Safety Concerns

In a survey conducted by Very Well Mind, over 50% of respondents reported feeling more worried than fine when asked about no longer needing to wear a mask, even if they were fully vaccinated. 

Although the COVID vaccines available in the UK have over 80% effectiveness in protecting against the virus according to Yale Medicine, it would be understandable for even those who have had the vaccine to still be nervous about contracting the virus or passing it on to a loved one due to the high volume of awareness programmes the public has been party to since the pandemic began. 

Adam Horwitz, PhD, a specialist in anxiety and trauma and professor at Michigan Medicine has told Michigan Health that in his experience in treating veterans he has seen “an unease when returning to civilian life” and a struggle in “shedding the layers of protection that they relied on overseas”. Horwitz has noted a similarity in the way the public is responding to the easing of restrictions and the removal of masks.  

This can be likened to what many are feeling nowadays; an anxiety about shedding a layer of safety that we relied on to protect us from the pandemic, our masks, in the context of a return ‘home’ to normalcy.”

  1. Reinforced Behaviours 

Private Practice Hub recently hosted a follow-up interview with Dr Alison McClymont, a respected children’s psychotherapist after publishing an article on the effect that the pandemic will have on children’s mental health and she has mentioned that a number of reinforced messages will be hard for children to adjust to once the pandemic is over.  

“There’s been a long time that children have been told that they need to stand a certain distance from their friends when they’re playing, they need to wash their hands every time they touch something or else they are going to get a virus. Now, as lockdown restrictions ease they are beginning to be told that they don’t need to do that anymore, and that in itself is a very confusing set of messages, so sadly I have been seeing much more OCD-like behaviours emerging as well as generalized anxiety emerging in that population.” 

The same issues could be raised for adults too. 

Tyler Grove, PhD, is an anxiety expert at Michigan Medicine, and he believes that adults will be struggling with the same issues that Dr McClymont has mentioned above: 

“We have had over a year of reinforced behaviours (with proven effectiveness) that have helped people cope with the negative aspects of living through the pandemic.” 

  1. Social Anxiety 

With the controversies surrounding mask wearing over the last year, it is not surprising that so many are concerned with the reaction they will receive from people when they decide to stop wearing them.

People are concerned that by not wearing a mask now, they will be making a statement about mask-wearing that does not reflect their true thoughts.  “I keep thinking if I don’t wear (a mask) people will think I’m an anti-masker.”  Aditi, New York City, told Very Well Mind in their recent survey. 

Another perspective is that people actually enjoy the masks, and are worried about how they are perceived if they do not remove them when the pandemic is over. 

David A. Moscovitch, a professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo recently conducted research related to masks and social anxiety, and has found that mask protocols during the pandemic can increase struggles with social anxiety as individuals struggle to “reveal” themselves to the public once again. 

In the study, it was noted that mask protocol as protected individuals from “social pressures that come with fears of exposing flaws in appearance or signs of anxiety,” and so to adjust once more to not wearing a mask would be a struggle for those suffering with social anxiety and concerned with how they may appear or be perceived. 

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Should I Keep Wearing A Mask?

The benefits of wearing masks have been proven over the stretch of the pandemic. Dr Eleanor Gaunt reports that the measures taken by the public over the course of 2020 have been “so effective that we have seen two strains of influenza become extinct” and so it’s no wonder that people are so adamant that we should continue some of these measures as coronavirus cases continue to bounce between 25,000 – 30,000 new cases daily. 

While the government has stated it is no longer mandatory to wear a mask indoors and in public settings, it is regarded a personal choice for people to wear them or not, and down to a business’s discretion to enforce a rule about wearing face coverings indoors.

For your practice, if you feel comfortable not wearing a mask while you deal with clients face to face, that is your right, but consider discussing the option with your clients beforehand to see if they share the same comfort levels as yourself and assess what the right course of action is for your client’s comfort and safety. 

Article written by Maisie Violet Wicks, BA Hons. Have something to share? Contact newsdesk@privatepracticehub.co.uk