Wearing a mask in public places has been normalized during the COVID-19 pandemic. While mask mandates have been lifted in Florida, the recommendations for mask-wearing from public health experts have evolved with the shifting conditions of the pandemic – leaving many people confused about the best way to approach masking up.
Earlier this summer, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provided guidance that “fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” except when there are restrictions in place from their city, county, or state.
On July 27, 2021, the CDC revised those guidelines to recommend that fully vaccinated people should still wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission. As of the date of this article’s publication, this includes many urban areas in Florida.
While some people are excited to toss their masks in the back of the closet, many others have been experiencing a variety of emotions around wearing masks:
- When restrictions lift for fully vaccinated individuals, not wearing a mask might feel weird.
- If your community reinstates a policy of wearing of masks indoors, you might feel a sense of confusion about what you are supposed to do.
- When you go to large public indoor (or outdoor) events, you might feel a sense of anxiety and indecision over whether to mask up in the crowds.
This uncertainty may be more pronounced if you have social anxiety. Social anxiety is characterized by negative self-perception and fear that one’s appearance or behavior will fail to conform with social expectations and norms.
Research from David A. Moscovitch, professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo, found that mask protocols during the pandemic may increase struggles with social anxiety even after the pandemic.
“People with social anxiety will likely experience renewed fear and anxiety about behaving awkwardly or inappropriately (e.g., ‘should I be wearing my mask here?’ ‘Is it ok to have a close conversation?’) and being judged negatively by others,” Moscovitch says.
If it is safe for you to break from your covid routine, but that change makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous, or you’re not ready to let go of the mask just yet, here are few ways you can cope with the transition back to “normal” life.
5 tips to remember as we return to “normal” life
- Stay informed. Be aware of your community’s specific pandemic conditions, such as the number of hospitalizations due to the coronavirus. Check the latest guidance from the CDC and your local public health officials. Make sure you know if your community is considered a high transmission area so you can act accordingly.
- Be respectful. Every community’s situation is different, and every individual has different needs. The person you see wearing a mask may want to protect a child who can’t be vaccinated yet, or a family member who is high risk. Many people may continue to wear masks for the foreseeable future, so it is important to be patient and respectful of others. Likewise, every business or event you visit may have different expectations about mask-wearing, so continue to respect any posted guidelines and the instructions of staff members.
- Recognize your comfort level. The world is changing frequently. Ask yourself questions that help you stay in touch with your emotions. Do I feel safe not wearing a mask at grocery store? Do I feel safe not wearing a mask at the gym? Am I comfortable going to crowded places with no mask? Am I comfortable not wearing a mask at the park? Take your comfort level into consideration when it comes to pandemic-related behavior changes.
- Take it at your own pace- If it is safe for you to start taking part in more activities, take it slow. It’s okay to return to pre-pandemic “busy-ness” at your own pace. Take small steps like meeting a friend outside or getting together with people who are also vaccinated, before diving into a large-scale public event like a wedding or concert.
- Recognize and break the habit of avoidance. Avoidance and anxiety tend to go hand in hand. When you avoid the things that make you anxious, it may feel like a relief in the short term but will just lead to more anxiety in the long term. Although this might be uncomfortable at first, Moscovitch suggests participating in social situations rather than avoiding them. Try to catch yourself when you’re choosing to avoid interactions even when you aren’t being forced to do so by pandemic-related restrictions. Make plans to see a friend and act friendly with others by smiling as you connect with others once again.
Need More Help?
If you are struggling with your mental health or feeling anxious or depressed, please seek professional help. At The Bougainvilla House, we offer therapy sessions for families and young people who struggle with managing their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. If you would like to get started, please schedule your free screening here.