Mask mandates around the country have sparked heated debates, even screaming matches, especially at school board meetings and retail stores. Understanding why some experience rage and outcry while others do not stems from the most basic concept of human behavior: subjective experience. We each experience events through different lenses throughout our lives, developing our own interpretation of the world through those experiences. We then correlate those experiences with how our most basic needs are met to achieve optimal wellbeing. This is the theory of Self-Determination, in which there are three universal needs: autonomy, psychological relatedness, and competence.
While uncomfortable and inconvenient, masks have become a new daily accessory, even requirement, leaving some to feel that their universal need for body autonomy is being stripped away. This has led researchers to ask: what effects do face masks have on our mental health? Some of this research acknowledges that face masks can cause a level of anxiety related to physical health, whether you wear one or not. Other psychologists and researchers state that not enough time has passed to really assess the mental health effects. Still, they do acknowledge wearing a face mask can be difficult for those already struggling with their mental health. At Grey Matters of Carmel, we’ve left the decision of masking up to each of our clients and their perception of self-preservation and safety. But we, too, want to know if masking is affecting our mental health or if it will later down the road.
Challenges of Wearing a Mask
It’s understandable why wearing masks makes people anxious. We rely on facial cues to help us navigate the world and interact with one another, but our social interactions have changed without these cues. Some even struggle with feelings of being claustrophobic, unable to steady their breathing while wearing a mask. Suffocation is a real and genuine concern for those with COPD or asthma, and putting on a face mask doesn’t help with that feeling. Triggers to past trauma, like rape, can also cause extreme anxiety and even fright when something so similar to a hand is covering one’s mouth and nose. So, before you demand someone wear a mask, remember that their subjective experience (what we call “the sum of our experiences”) may be very, very different from yours.
Challenges of Not Wearing a Mask
On the other hand, there are some equally challenging aspects to not wearing a mask. As we know, the COVID-19 virus spread rapidly through the air in the tiny water droplets we breathe in and out. These infected droplets usually spread quickly in coughs and sneezes, making it challenging for those in confined or crowded spaces – like a bus or the subway – where everyone shares the same air, with little-to-no air circulation. But, if you’re wearing a mask, you can protect yourself from the germs others spread through the air.
The rules of masks have been relaxed for many, but you still shouldn’t forget your manners. While you may find them silly or unnecessary, there are some people you’ll interact with daily who feel uncomfortable in a room without one. So, as a courtesy to others, here are some quick and easy questions from the team at MIND that you can ask to be courteous of those around you:
- “Would you like me to wear a mask?”
- “Would you prefer it if I took my mask off?”
- “Is it okay if I take my mask off?”
- “Shall we spread out a bit? I could sit or stand over here.”
- “Shall we open a window?”
- “Is it ok if I leave the door open?”
- “Would you like some of my hand sanitizer?”
Anxiety About Masks or Life?
Anxiety can come from a variety of different life events and factors. However, it’s no secret that this pandemic and its disruption to our everyday lives have increased the collective anxiety we all feel. For some, it’s been centered entirely around the mask debate, while for others it’s an ongoing mental health issue. Either way, neurofeedback from Grey Matters of Carmel can help! So, whether you’re looking to calm your nerves or reach your peak potential, our brain training is right for you! We can even help with your chronic depression and concussion mitigation. To schedule an appointment, give us a call at (317) 215-7208.