Face masks are having an unexpectedly positive effect on some with social anxiety.
Wearing a face mask is the new normal, and has become something of a cultural, political, and scientific statement for some. No one ever expected wearing a face mask to become the big topic of 2020, but then again, we did not expect much of what this year has brought. Face masks serve a purpose, to help control and contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
And while many are sick of wearing face coverings, they are having an unexpectedly positive effect on people who suffer from social anxiety.
Social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as “an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others.” The fear of being watched by others, being fearful to meet new people, and being extremely self-conscious in any social situation are all parts of this disorder, which can affect people of any age, race, or gender. It is estimated that at least 15 million adults in the United States face social anxiety disorder.
For introverts, those who suffer skin conditions, and those who have social anxiety, the face masks have become almost a relief. Many have reported feeling less anxious and more confident by being able to cover one’s face in a social or public situation, without judgment, and to have everyone else also doing it. The sense of anonymity from wearing masks is part of it, as is the feeling of less pressure to perform—many who suffer from anxiety feel pressure to always smile or be friendly in public.
A study in Poland found that wearing facemasks reduces people’s anxiety about the pandemic and may reinforce their sense of personal control. While there is limited research on this, and longer studies need to be done, it is clear that mask-wearing does have positive benefits for some beyond protection for COVID-19.
Dr. Vaile Wright, a psychologist and researcher and the Senior Director of Health Care Innovation in the Practice Directorate at the American Psychological Association, compares the mask-wearing to the way social media allows people to be very obscure and in control of what others see.
“I think the mask enables people to feel freer; to express themselves without that fear of being judged or criticized,” Wright says.
Wright does warn of becoming too dependent on the masks or attributing feeling better solely to wearing a mask. However, the new feelings of confidence and calm can be extremely helpful and can give people an opportunity to practice social skills and interactions they may have otherwise been too fearful to approach.
Have you noticed more confidence while wearing a face mask? Leave a comment below.