A new study shows that among people suffering from social anxiety, the use of face masks may increase distress, especially during a pandemic.
The study, authored by a team of researchers at the University of Waterloo, was released in the academic journal Anxiety, Stress and Coping.
Researchers cited the unusual situation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic involving a lack of social engagement as the potential cause of the increased distress people with social anxiety may have experienced.
The study looked at existing literature, examining whether there was any association between social anxiety and mask-wearing.
According to the study’s lead author, “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 behavior.”
The study’s lead author also said, “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.”
“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.”