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  • Writer's pictureJo Small

Shopping behind a mask

Shopping can be a strange experience these days. Wearing a face mask can be unsettling and make you feel uncomfortable for many reasons: you may feel claustrophobic; you may feel your freedom is taken away; or you are worried about getting ill. The mask acts as a visual and constant reminder that things are not as they used to be.

The barrier of material can make us feel removed and, for some, threatened. The lack of facial cues may trigger a ‘friend or foe’ response where we are unsettled by not having enough information to assess how safe we are. When you're conversing with someone, you tend to pick up on things like posture, gestures, facial expressions and breathing sounds. A lot of these cues are now hidden behind the mask or are more difficult to discern and our brains have to work much harder for us to communicate effectively. We use the facial expressions of others to help us to calm our nervous system, but if we don’t receive those signals, we might go into survival mode.

We’re also not used to making as much eye contact as we currently are. We’re now engaging in long stretches of direct eye gazing as we try our best to establish a connection with the person we’re talking to. It’s the kind of eye contact we might usually reserve for second date but has now become the way we interact with casual acquaintances and even strangers.

Try some of these relaxation techniques to help maintain shopping calmness.

  • Breathe in and out deeply. Just a few deep breaths can help you feel centred when you're feeling the pressure of the supermarket aisles

  • Listen to soothing or inspiring music on headphones

  • Put a drop of soothing essential oil on your mask or on your sleeve (lavender is very calming)

And, most importantly, be kind to yourself. Shopping is tiring when your brain is having to work so much harder!

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