Why you’re not wearing a mask might make you more anxious

The no-mask anxiety is the latest in a series of disorders being reported by psychologists studying the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

After more than two and a half years of mandatory face masks in public, the UAE eased restrictions this week – but the change has meant some are struggling to readjust.

The decision to remove face masks was made due to declining numbers of Covid-19 and milder symptoms reported in current cases.

A welcome change for many, but psychologists said it could take some time to adjust to the mask-free environment.

“Some people, especially those who may not be ready to have their masks removed just yet, may feel powerless over circumstances beyond their control,” said Dr. Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director of The Lighthouse Arabia, a mental health and wellness center in Dubai.

“These people will most likely experience bouts of heightened anxiety.

“Most others may feel more excited, stressed, irritable at times like this if they don’t realize that changes of any kind can leave a person feeling destabilized for a few weeks.

“As with any change, there is a transition from one approach to another and one can expect difficult feelings as one adjusts to the new.

“During periods of transition, which typically last six weeks, one can expect many feelings and symptoms of stress and anxiety.”

Partly still mask duty

Although a mandate remains in place for public transport, places of worship and healthcare facilities, most other places such as schools, shopping malls and workplaces have lifted restrictions.

Doctors are recommending that people with cold and flu symptoms continue to wear masks to limit the number of viral infections from seasonal colds this winter.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, fear rates have increased in the United Arab Emirates, experts said.

Symptoms include rapid heartbeat or chest pressure, restlessness, restlessness and irritability, excessive worrying, muscle tension, trouble sleeping or panic attacks.

Mental health professionals at Priory Wellbeing Centers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi reported a 20 per cent increase in patients seeking treatment since Covid was first detected.

According to consulting psychiatrist Dr. Waleed Ahmed, many are still grappling with the aftermath.

“My own team’s clinical experience suggests that anxiety disorders are more common in otherwise healthy or low-risk individuals,” said Dr. Ahmed.

Masks remain optional everywhere for people who would rather continue to wear them.  AFP

“We have seen an increase in cases, particularly among children and adolescents, both during and after the pandemic.

“There is a common thread with the majority of patients – they were fine until the pandemic started and schools went online.

“Young people have definitely felt the full brunt of the pandemic-related restrictions, such as limited social and physical interaction, excessive digital consumption and, of course, online education.

“For many, this has had an immense impact on their mental health, particularly around anxiety and stress.”

social anxiety

A 2021 review of existing research on the effects of mask wearing and social anxiety was conducted by the University of Waterloo’s Department of Psychology and Center for Mental Health Research and Treatment in Ontario, Canada.

Characterized by a negative self-image and fear of not conforming to societal norms, social anxiety is evident in about 10-13 percent of the population, experts said.

Researchers found those with existing social anxiety were most likely to struggle to readjust into society after mask-wearing was removed from Covid regulations.

The UAE responded to a well-documented rise in mental health complaints during the pandemic by stepping up support services via remote counseling and a telephone support hotline.

Other social support groups have been formed to help people readjust to post-Covid life.

One of these was Shore Thing Surf Therapy in Dubai, run by Paula Jacobson.

To commemorate World Mental Health Day, volunteers from the group will host a surf therapy session on Sunset Beach in Dubai on Sunday October 9th from 4:30pm to help people with anxiety and depression.

It’s one of a growing number of ways to help people with anxiety that has emerged during Covid.

“The pandemic was a major life event that affected people on biological, psychological and social levels,” said Dr. Ahmed.

“Researchers are increasingly talking about it being a major trauma in people’s lives, and we’re all affected by it to some degree.”

Updated September 30, 2022 2:29 am

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