Pandemic Is Over, but Don't Ask Me To Let Go of My Mask – Here's Why

While I’ve stopped most other COVID-appropriate practices, masks are one thing that I’m reluctant to let go of.

3 min read
Pandemic Is Over, but Don't Ask Me To Let Go of My Mask – Here's Why
Hindi Female

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Earlier this week, at the Lucknow airport, a woman in her early twenties stared at me for a good 15-20 seconds before asking me, “Abhi bhi mask lagaya hua hai aapne? Ab kyu lekin? (Why are you still wearing a mask? What's the need now?)”

This question has been posed to me innumerable times in the past few months. 

Last year in April, most Indian states struck down the mask mandate. This May, the World Health Organization declared that COVID-19 is no longer a global health emergency. And it’s been over three years since the coronavirus pandemic first entered our lives.

So why am I still wearing a mask? Well, there’s a lot to unpack there…

COVID Still Driving Fear

I’m one of only three people at my workplace who religiously wears a mask throughout the day. But while I may be an anomaly there, I do know that lots of other people are continuing to wear masks too – in crowded metros, in hospitals, at railway stations. 

Dr Trideep Choudhury, Associate Consultant Psychiatrist at Faridabad’s Fortis Escorts Hospital, explained to me why people might want to still stay masked even if it’s no longer mandatory.

“COVID-19 has left a huge impact on our psyche with a massive scale of loss. People have seen their close ones pass away or develop severe complications. These memories and combative experiences magnify the fear and anxiety. And fear is the biggest driver of human behaviour.”

That actually rings true for me. Since my parents have comorbidities, from the very beginning of the pandemic, I’ve been anxious about unintentionally spreading the virus to them.

While I’ve now stopped following other COVID-appropriate practices like sanitising every item that enters the home, masks are one thing that I’m still reluctant to let go of.

But Dr Choudhary says that information overload during the pandemic could be another reason as well for this reluctance of mine (and of people like me) – triggered by COVID-19, people are now taking precautionary measures against other diseases as well. 


Hiding Social Anxiety Like a Pro

Even if you’re someone with strong anti-mask sentiments, you’d have to agree that masks have been a boon for introverts and those with social anxiety. (Yay!)

And it’s not just a personal opinion, by the way. A 2021 study conducted by the University of Waterloo found that people struggling with social anxiety found a certain sense of comfort in wearing masks since it helped “hide their self-perceived flaws.”

But research shows that this very phenomenon has a drawback too. The same study’s conclusion suggested,

“The desire for self-concealment may motivate their use of masks over and above their desire to protect themselves from contagion.”

So a win-win situation to hide your insecurities about the way you look actually caused those insecurities to aggravate? Well… I wouldn’t know.


Masks Almost a Part of Me Now

What I do know is that wearing a mask when stepping outside feels as natural to me as locking the door behind me or taking my wallet along.

I’m not saying that I’ve never stepped out without a mask in the last three years. I’ve forgone it for social events, parties, or weddings. But at each of these places, I’ve found myself glancing through the room and feeling a slight sense of discomfort thinking about how crowded it is.

I’ve had dreams where I’m in a hall full of people and no one, including me, is wearing a mask and woken up feeling anxious.

To be fair, I’m also aware that wearing a common surgical mask is not protecting me from anything, and is now (almost) an unnecessary expense.

The biggest reason I continue wearing masks is that I haven’t contracted coronavirus yet, and I want to avoid it at all costs. Because I’m 120 percent sure that my sleep deprived, junk food fuelled immune system cannot handle any complications that COVID-19 might bring with it, let alone severe problems like long COVID. 

But Dr Choudhary says,

“Wearing a mask is indeed responsible behaviour but if you’re feeling anxious when you’re not wearing a mask or if it’s causing you emotional trouble or affecting your everyday life, you should seek help.”

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Topics:  WHO   coronavirus   Pandemic 

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