This is how the end of masks can affect you

Without a doubt, one of the most anticipated moments of this week is the end of the mandatory use of masks indoors. And it is that at this point in the pandemic there is a lot of debate about the advisability of withdrawing this rule. Two years ago, when the pandemic broke out, governments were forced to impose restrictions to stop the spread of the virus, and the use of the mask was one of them. Mobility restrictions and home confinements negatively affected the population mental health. However, after two years of the pandemic, there is no evidence that masks harm the psychological well-being of people. There is also no evidence that it has affected the social, emotional or language development of children. Now, it seems to me that it is time to “flu” the coronavirus, and therefore I applaud the step that the government has taken to withdraw this obligation. Here are some considerations in this regard:

  • feel certain feeling of nakedness or strangeness the first few days or weeks is a normal reaction. Don’t forget that our facial expressions, whether we intend to or not, convey a lot of information. Who has not hidden a face of disapproval, boredom or even a yawn behind the mask! On the other hand, we once again have the possibility of making gestures that favor complicity and empathy.
  • Follow your own criteria, avoiding depending on the external approval. That the obligation is over, does not imply that it is necessary to remove the mask. There are some people who are especially sensitive to the approval of others, but the use of masks should be a matter of personal choice, trying to be immune to the opinions of others. Also, it should not be an absolute decision. That is, depending on the situation we can consider it necessary or not.
  • After two years wearing the masks some people have been able to develop a certain unsafety or discomfort to expose their full face again, especially in the work environment, since our reactions and facial expressions are hidden behind the mask, and now these people can be noticed most vulnerable. This is especially common in people with social anxiety since the masks offered protection and hid their insecurities. Just as the lectern offers protection to those who are afraid to speak in public. However, my advice to those people who without the mask feel observed, fear to appear in public or feel ashamed to expose themselves is to ask for help. In these situations it is important move from avoidance to coping to avoid generating a phobia. At the same time, it is necessary to identify the origin of these fears in order to solve them, which often include problems of self-esteem or low self-concept.
  • Another group of people who may have resistance to removing the mask are those who still have fear of getting infected of the coronavirus. Fear can be distinguished from prudence by the intensity and frequency of worry, which in the case of fear is usually associated with suffering and avoidance behaviors.
  • In any case, if personal insecurity or fear of contagion leads a person to isolate themselves, it is a problem because social and family relationships Satisfying feelings are one of the best medicines for achieving emotional well-being. As a psychiatrist, I prescribe it in the consultation, just as a cardiologist prescribes a salt-free diet to prevent hypertension. That is why I think it is recommendable to encourage, as much as possible, the face to face interactions since they provide a greater sense of physical closeness, and also allow affection or complicity to be expressed in a more spontaneous way (for example: through a loving face), which has a great affective and emotional value.
  • But even more important in this time of changing regulations, is to be respectful of the choices of othersand it seems opportune to make it easier for all of us to be comfortable (especially those people who have diseases that suppose a greater risk or vulnerability), for which some phrases for example:

Before starting a business meeting clarify that anyone who wants to can use the mask, thus preventing anyone who wants to wear it from feeling uncomfortable, weird or exaggerated.

If we are gathered in a closed space we can ask before taking it off: Is it okay if I take off the mask?

And somehow, make it easier to respect some prevention measures (ventilation, interpersonal distance, etc), especially when there is someone at risk: “Should we separate a little?”, “Do you think it’s okay if we open the window?”

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