The CDC’s announcement that fully vaccinated individuals are safe without masks has become an invitation to begin living our lives again. Although there are positive feelings, many of us are still re-adjusting to socializing with old friends and going into public places without a mask.
Relying on our mask for protection has psychological impacted many of us; therefore, giving up that security overnight is unrealistic. We saw horrific stories about COVID-19 from the media and in our personal lives and experienced the mistrust and hostility against people who refused to wear a mask. Wearing a mask became a signaling device that we’re being responsible, conscientious, and considerate of others. If you’re having trouble removing the mask, know you’re not alone, many are feeling the same way. However, to let your fear limit what means the most is not healthy either. We all need to connect with others, physically and emotionally.
Here are five suggestions that can help you make the transition of a mask-less world:
1. Be patient with yourself. You’ve taken control over what you could do this past year, which included wearing a mask. Try to call on a friend or two for coffee or an outing where you feel safe without a mask so you can ease into it.
2. Take proper precautions but practice small exposures you look forward to. During the pandemic, the only safe place was home. The world is moving forward, and if you continue staying in and never participate in events where others aren’t masked, you’ll become more isolated and alone. Try small outings where you see people and connect but are in control of the location and time limit.
3. Share the lessons you learned. Most of us became aware of our true priorities during quarantine. It’s when we couldn’t see peoples smiles, expressions, and faces that we missed them the most. Being closed off and afraid is much more destructive to mental health than being open and sharing with others. We need to see each other’s smiles and share each other’s thoughts and feelings for our mental health.
4. Practice initiating friendships. Many people feel socially awkward after a year of being home. The mask afforded them a "cover" or safety net. When we understand that being mask-less makes people feel more vulnerable and insecure about getting together, it’s easier to be the initiator or the first to step up and invite them for a chat, an afternoon at the museum, or a walk in the park. Friends help buffer us from our fears and negative thoughts and remind us that life is fun.
5. Even when you’re anxious, you’re in control. No one can tell you that you cannot wear a mask, and in some situations it’s important to wear one. As we restore our trust in each other, we understand the pandemic caused us to share a collective trauma. Giving each other space to transition at their own pace makes everyone less anxious.
Wearing a mask has been the one thing most of us could do early on to stay safe. We put masks on our children and ourselves at a crucial time when knowledge and understanding of the COVID-19 virus was limited. The mask became our lifeline, and we were inseparable with it. Taking it off and trusting your vaccine to protect you without the mask takes time. There’s no rush and no shame in keeping your mask in your pocket or your purse as we head out into a frenzied world, trying to make up for the year lost in lockdown.