Experts say mask separation anxiety is real

COVID-19 mask generic
Posted at 1:44 PM, Mar 18, 2021

CHICAGO — For those who are fully vaccinated, the CDC says it’s safe to take your mask off in certain situations. But after a year of never leaving home without a face mask, some people may be uneasy with the idea of letting go of the protection.

For the better part of a year, public service announcements, political leaders and health experts have been urging Americans to don cloth face masks to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“A lot of us have been able to do that condition ourselves to this new type of behavior of, 'I get my purse, I get my car keys and I get my mask,'” said Dr. Aderonke Pederson, an instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

She says while the latest CDC guidelines say it’s OK for fully-vaccinated people to gather with one another indoors without a mask, it may take some time to process that.

“We have to acknowledge the fact that our bodies might not respond to that intellectual and logical recommendation right away,” said Pederson.

Like grief, she says everyone’s experience and comfort level will be different.

“So, your family members might be ready to take their mask off and ready to follow the CDC guidelines as they've stated them, but you might have some hesitation and some anxiety and that's OK,” she said.

At the same time, a lot of people remain vaccine-hesitant.

According to Pew Research, while more Americans say they plan to get vaccinated, 30 percent still say they don’t plan to.

“While we will continue to push vaccinations and encourage people to get vaccinated at the same time, each person is going to be experiencing kind of a different social context when it comes to their families and when it comes to work,” said Pederson.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans say they believe it will be a year or more before things get back to pre-pandemic normal, including 14 percent who expect it will take more than two years.

Pederson says it’s important to acknowledge that everyone is experiencing this pandemic in their own unique way.

“I really encourage people if you have a family member or co-worker who says, ‘You know, I still would like us to keep our mask on for now.’ I think it's OK to say, ‘Well, let's delay this next step.’”

In the end, experts say we’re all in this together and one size does not fit all.