Masked Happiness: Research Reveals the Psychological Benefits of Mask Wearing
Notwithstanding the medical guidance and mandates, many are suffering from "mask fatigue." True, masks that are too thick or too tight can interfere with breathing, causing both discomfort and anxiety; and heavy duty masks can be downright painful.
Not to mention the practical difficulties, such as navigating your way through crowded store aisles with totally fogged eyeglasses if you don’t wear your mask low enough on your nose, and the laborious practice of sanitizing them continuously.
But despite the downsides of complying with mask mandates, research indicates that masks might actually improve our mood.
Mood Masking Defined
Because they cover our faces, to some extent, masks mask emotion.
So because most of us are currently required to wear face coverings in public anyway, wouldn’t it be great to have a mood mask, like the trendy mood rings in the 1970s, which presumably changed colors to reflect the way you were feeling?
We would know who to approach or avoid in various public settings.
Well, according to research, we might not need color-coated indications of masked emotions, because mask wearing itself can improve mood.
Dorota Szczesniak et al. (2020) reported face mask wearing data per survey results in "Psychopathological Responses and Face Mask Restrictions During the COVID-19 Outbreak."
They examined the link between face mask restrictions in Poland, and associated psychopathological manifestation, and consistent with other research, found a decrease in psychopathological symptoms following the obligation to wear face coverings in public.
They note that one factor that might reduce the likelihood of psychiatric symptoms was wearing face masks at work, recognizing that such protective behavior might reinforce a sense of personal control, mitigate a sense of helplessness, and moderate anxiety — thus enhancing a coping response.
They also recognize mask wearing as a "symbol of social cohesion in the global response to the pandemic," that shifts the focus from oneself to others, enhancing a sense of collective responsibility.
Accordingly, they acknowledge that mask wearing may enhance a sense of wellbeing and decrease negative emotion.
Although Szczesniak et al. (ibid.) note that mask wearing might create a false sense of security, which could decrease the practice of other precautionary measures such as hand washing and social distancing, it also reduced the psychological response to stress.
They concluded that their findings suggest that face mask regulations not only protect wearers from contracting COVID-19, but also enhance a sense of self-protection and perceived social solidarity, enhancing mental health and a sense of well-being.
Masks as Status and Fashion
Another potential mood enhancing aspect of face covering is the reality that mandatory masking affords the opportunity to be both compliant and creative.
Considering the plethora of imaginative face coverings designed to complement a wide variety of wardrobe options, the mask has apparently evolved as a fashionable accessory and status symbol.
Yihui Goh et al., declaring 2020 "The Year of the Mask," examined how the face mask has become psychologically symbolic. Among other findings, they note that despite initial resentment, once masks became advisable and in some cases mandatory, the younger generation became creatively compliant, adding fashion to face protection.
Although they recognize that designer masks do not control infection, but rather provide a "psychological pseudo-confidence"for the user, they also apparently have the potential to become status symbols.
So, until we experience a post-pandemic "great unmasking," focusing on the positive aspects of mask wearing might cover some of the resentment we feel, as we remain optimistic about the news that they are no longer needed.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, PhD, is an award-winning career trial attorney and media commentator. She is host of "Live with Dr. Wendy" on KCBQ, and a daily guest on other media outlets, delivering a lively mix of flash, substance, and style. Her over 4,500 media appearances include major news outlets including CNN, Fox News Channel, HLN, FOX Business Network, and weekly appearances on Newsmax. She is author of Red Flags (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House, revision). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin professionally with a rock band. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patricks's Reports — More Here.
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