Why does Wearing a Mask Trigger Unpleasant Emotions?

By Prapoorna M

Last Updated: November 27, 2021

This has been a new uncomfortable experience for us. Wearing a mask is a bit irritating and uncomfortable but inevitable for us now. That experience of fresh air striking on our face or inhaling that naked smell of fresh flowers on the street, has now to be done through a screen, making us irked and you must be thinking like, “This stupid little thing is freaking me out”. Sadly, this is something we should bear with. Masks on others’ faces prevent us from experiencing that greeting and notice their expressions completely.

Half of these expressions are seen while the other half are what we should just understand. Sometimes, we even fail to recognize people. But this is all what we have to bear with. Sometimes it also feels guilty thinking if this is what we are gifting our next generation. Don’t you think all this creates an uncomfortable irritation, uneasiness and anxiety in us? This has been termed as “Mask anxiety” in the recent days. Psychologists say that it is a common phenomenon that is expected during this Corona period that the world have to live with.

Though we understand the need for it, we can’t really point the source of these intense emotions. Identifying the reactions you are showing and learning how to calm them can help you during these
difficult times of Covid-19 a bit easier through online counseling.

A girl wearing a mask
A girl wearing a mask

Effect of Past

When people have traumatic incidents in the past that are connected to face masks, unpleasant emotions are triggered by the usage of masks. Facing any unwanted emotions can put us in fight mode, flight mode or survival mode depending on what we experienced previously. Elderly people who are Octogenarians must be remembering the times of World War II when they had to wear masks due to the toxins and debris in the air that remained from fires and bombings.

People who faced some natural disasters like wild fires, volcanic eruptions, and heavy environmental pollution effects had to wear a mask during such times. So, it is more likely that they can remember such incidents that they had been through. The trauma of such times can also be remembered. Some other painful experiences that are related might also follow and would trigger relevant anxiety in us.

It is a common experience that people prefer to pull a mask during unpleasant experiences like while having medical procedures such as cancer treatments or when they have to visit an uncommon place like mortuary. This can remind them of such instances and let them feel gloomy. The increasing air pollution is making citizens of many metro cities to pull a mask over their faces. Though they are doing it over long distances or only at some places, wearing a mask has been a requirement now in many places.

Some people who have experiences of encountering a mugger wearing a mask can relate to such incidents and feel stressed. This new tradition of masking our face can never make us a guess if the person standing beside us is a burglar or a gentleman. When we are reminded of such traumatic experiences, we are suddenly thrown back in time, which trigger some unwanted emotions. In many cases, experiencing such emotions can re-trigger the symptoms accompanied with the original incident.

Apart from all these miserable experiences, it is of course the best way to protect ourselves from infectious diseases.

Effect on Social Communications

In spite of not having any past traumatic histories related to facemasks, you might feel uncomfortable. When you see the people around you in masks, it is a common thing that you might feel anxious as you cannot read their facial expressions. This way of dealing with people might make you feel so weird and anxious all the time especially when it comes to social communication. When your job itself is related to such acts of dealing with public, your pain cannot be explained. For example, a sales person in such a
weird position wonders if he should continue what he is explaining, if the other person is able to follow or if he is boring the customer.

Reading a person’s facial expressions is a part of non-verbal communication which is hindered by this face mask. Such a position makes the person perplexed when the listener doesn’t speak about his opinion. Though it sounds hilarious, majority of the people feel the same. Also, to survive we must be able to distinguish from friend to foe and camouflaging prevents us from getting non-verbal cues and just arrests our thinking capacity to act further, especially during social communications.

A man wearing a mask
A man wearing a mask

Senses are Restricted

In case you are claustrophobic, it feels that your freedom is taken away and you would feel uncomfortable for obvious reasons. In fact, everyone has a reason to be anxious getting accustomed to these new changes. We take input from our surroundings with the help of our senses. When we cannot interpret what we see, when we cannot feel the fresh scents completely, when we hesitate to touch everything with naked hands, and when we are unable to exchange our expressions through those sweet non-verbal cues, life obviously feels tough for us. Being unaware of the surroundings makes us anxious and our nervous system eventually goes into fight, flight, or freeze mode. It is important to keep our nerves calm.

As logical reasoning cannot do this, our sense should be engaged in calming down ourselves. Relaxation techniques like listening to good music, singing, humming, chewing gum (relaxing facial nerves) and spraying the mask with a nice scented spray before tying can keep us active. Exercising and meditating daily can help us control our emotions in our daily struggles of life.

In case, you are unable to control your emotions or if your anxiety spikes, it is highly recommended to consult a psychologist and seeking help is no shame. Log on to Wellness hub that is equipped with a number of counselors who can help you keep your calm; maintain confidentiality, who are friendly, empathetic and non-judgmental. Book an appointment, today.

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