Uncertainties about keeping safe

Now that lockdown restrictions are being lifted, we find ourselves with a brand-new set of questions and worries about social distancing. Of course, we have the government guidelines set out for us to work to but it almost seems that the onus is on the individual now to decide how they conduct themselves; whether you wear a mask when you’re out and about, visit your relatives in their homes, standing 2 metres apart from your friend in the park? It is almost bringing a whole new etiquette into our daily lives which in itself can be stressful. 

Wearing masks 

The governments’ announcement yesterday evening that it will be compulsory to wear a mask in shops in England from next Friday may come as a relief, as the uncertainty recently has led to confusion and anxiety for some. Wearing masks can be a very individual decision, you may wear a mask yourself every time you go out because you believe it will limit the spread of the virus, plus you may feel more protected in wearing one. 

You may have asthma in which case the Asthma UK website states: 

“If you’ve got asthma, you may or may not be able to wear a face mask or covering. It’s a good idea to try one out at home, or on a short walk around the block first. If it feels fine, then you can wear it, and it won’t harm you. 

But if it makes it feel harder to breathe, the UK Government has advised that you don’t have to wear one. You could try a few different types to see if there is one that suits you, but if you feel breathless or suffocated while wearing a face covering, then don’t wear one.” 

NB Always remember to take your inhalers with you. 

Others might have different personal issues with wearing masks. It takes a bit of getting used to and if you harbour some level of claustrophobia perhaps or have a child with autism it may well be completely impossible for you or your child to put a mask on. You might have autism yourself, in which case the same issues apply, Autism Hampshire.org says: 

These new guidelines raise new challenges for some autistic people. Autistic people sometimes have difficulty in understanding facial expressions in ‘normal’ (pre-Covid-19) times. The new guidelines for people to wear masks will make it even more difficult for some autistic people to understand facial expressions as body language in communication will be restricted to what the eyes can tell us.”  

Practically speaking 

You might find it helpful to try a few different types before you find one that is comfortable or easy for you to breathe in. You may feel self-conscious or vulnerable which puts you off wearing a mask, if this is case just give it a go! In time we may see pictures similar to those in China where wearing masks is part of our daily routines.  

Why is it hard to wear a mask? 

You might not understand your hesitation about wearing a mask outside of your home. As humans we are deeply programmed to assess risk by watching what’s happening around us. So, before we pass somebody, we will automatically have looked at their face and unconsciously made an assessment as to whether we feel safe. If not, we tend to put greater distance between us and them in an everyday setting, it could be crossing the road.  

Wearing masks stops us from gaining the information we need to feel safe. It also stops us from giving feedback to other people approaching us. Maybe we have to consider new ways of giving this information, such as a nod of our head as we approach somebody rather than smiling. This deep unconscious recognition of another person, is what helps to ease the anxiety of passing someone we don’t know. Alternative ways of acknowledging someone e.g. by a nod in passing or saying hello can reassure that we and/or they, do not present a threat. 

Visiting friends and family 

Then there is the question of visiting friends and families’ homes. The guidelines now state we can go into another household and have another household visit us, while maintaining social distancing, but again it all comes down to personal choice. It may feel totally strange to go into your friend’s house for a coffee and chat after all this time we have been staying away. We know that the risk at the moment is lower than it was, but it is still there. You may feel too worried to take this step right now, there’s always that ‘What if?’ in the back of your mind, so just do what you feel comfortable with. 

Alternatively, you might be keen to invite your friend in for that long-awaited cuppa, but don’t be surprised if they don’t take you up on it just yet. It might take them a little longer to get used to the idea. Another friend might just bite your hand off! Maybe you have actually “got out of the habit” of visiting friends and are finding it difficult to get back to doing it – (not just because of the social distancing or fear). 

People who are natural introverts may have even found lockdown an enjoyable experience, to have the social pressures of meeting friends removed may have been almost a relief and now the thought of getting back to normal could be anxiety inducing! Sometimes it’s hard to make the first move, especially if you have let contact lapse over the last 2 -3 months and haven’t been mixing with people much?  

Take it slowly, as a first step, send a text and ask how your friend is, do they fancy a chat at some point? Don’t worry if they don’t get back to you straight away, they themselves might be in a similar situation. Once you’re feeling a little more confident, think of someone who makes you smile. Make an arrangement to meet them, for example, out of doors for a quick catch up, you will be glad you made the effort as chatting to a friend can be beneficial.  

Finally, it’s natural for people to react by having an opinion about others who aren’t wearing a mask or keeping their distance, but we have to keep an open mind. We should perhaps concentrate on what responsibilities we are taking ourselves rather than scrutinize other people’s behaviour. You may feel less stressed out once you take on this mind set!  

If you are unsure about what is the right thing to do regarding social distancing, click the link here for the government guidelines https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

Have a look at some of the information we have on our Facebook page about anxiety but if you need more individual help please contact us to book an online session with our experienced psychologist. 

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