Does wearing a mask relieve feelings of social anxiety?

For Autumn McGarity, a sophomore human resources major, wearing a mask is akin to wearing her favorite sweatshirt — it is a comfort — though she believes facial expressions are still important for communication.

“I feel less anxious in a public place when I’m wearing my mask,” McGarity said. “I think for people who are naturally introverted, the mask is freeing.” 

Wearing masks can alleviate feelings and symptoms of social anxiety for some and can make people be more extroverted, according to Matthew Genuchi, an associate psychology professor.

Genuchi believes masks may help people feel less pressure in day-to-day activities, especially considering the work people must do for social interactions, including facial expressions and body language. 

According to Genuchi, wearing masks can ease the intensity of social interactions, like walking past people on campus. 

“You don’t have to worry about smiling or nodding because of the mask,” Genuchi said. “Some of the pressure is off.” 

However, for people who have more focused social anxiety, the mask sometimes shifts their attention to other thoughts and does not ease their actual anxieties, but rather deters them, according to Genuchi. 

For Genuchi personally, wearing a mask is comfortable because it distances himself from other people, bringing him comfort during the pandemic. He also feels it is his civic duty and responsibility to wear a mask in public. 

“It’s become a habit,” Genuchi said. “It doesn’t disturb us anymore because we’ve been exposed to it so much. A year ago would have been a different story.” 

Though we have become more desensitized to masks, Genuchi said there is potential for lost connections, especially in the day-to-day. 

“When we recognize people, there’s a moment of connection with a smile or nod,” Genuchi said. “Now, that doesn’t happen. It’s a lost connection.” 

According to Carolyn Golden, a licensed psychologist and adjunct faculty, social anxiety is composed of two parts: the mental and the physical, which play off one another. If your thoughts become nervous, your body becomes nervous and vice versa. 

Since the mask reduces the input we receive when interacting with others, some people will feel better with it on and some will feel worse, according to Golden. 

“When wearing a mask, we feel more anonymous, which is great for everyday circumstances,” Golden said. “It can be great for relieving or preventing the feelings of social anxiety.”

Golden thinks that social feedback, like a smile or a nod, is helpful for interacting with people, but since that is reduced by masks, we often get to be restricted to our own personal bubble. 

Golden compares the mask to wearing a necessary piece of clothing. She thinks it feels weird to go out without it, but it’s not always the most comfortable to wear. 

Golden says that wearing a mask signals an act of care and unity within a community and Golden feels this demonstrates that people are looking out for each other. The mask may give people a feeling of anonymity, especially around a stranger or in a new class where the mask may inhibit connections students make with each other. 

“When I go out without my mask, I feel vulnerable and exposed,” Golden said. “It feels against the cultural norm.”Does wearing a mask relieve feelings of social anxiety?

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