Study finds the practice of mask-wearing may increase distress associated with social anxiety

Among people suffering from social anxiety, the use of face masks, especially during a pandemic, may increase distress, a new study shows.

The study, authored by researchers at the University of Waterloo, was released in the journal Anxiety, Stress and Coping.

Researchers cited the unusual situation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic involving a lack of social engagements for the potential increased distress people with social anxiety may have experienced.

The study looked at existing literature examining for any association between social anxiety and mask-wearing.

“The researchers reviewed existing literature addressing three factors that they hypothesized might contribute to social anxiety associated with mask-wearing: hypersensitivity to social norms, bias in the detection of social and emotional facial cues, and propensity for self-concealment as a form of safety behaviour,” according to a news release of the findings.

“We found that mask-wearing by people with social anxiety is likely to be influenced by their perception of social norms and expectations, which may or may not be consistent with public-health guidelines and can vary widely by region and context,” said the study’s lead author in a news release.

“It is also possible that many people who didn’t struggle with social anxiety before the pandemic may find themselves feeling more anxious than usual as we emerge out of the pandemic and into a more uncertain future – especially within social situations where our social skills are rusty and the new rules for social engagement are yet to be written.”

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