We have much to be grateful for right now as the pandemic ceases to be the focus of our lives and many restrictions are lifted. There is a sense of normality returning – and the lifting of some restrictions around masks adds to the relief around freedom of movement and the opening of so many things we enjoy and used to take for granted.
Its only been a handful of days since restrictions around masks were relaxed, but after months and months of wearing them, for me the relief was profound and immediate.
Now, I am not saying I begrudged wearing a mask to protect my own health, nor the health of others. We as Victorians have done amazingly well to get to the wonderful practically COVID-free place we are in, and I have no doubt the masks have played a crucial role in this. But they did have an impact, and this may only now we really recognizable now that we have (mostly) taken them off.
The first morning I took my dog for a walk without the mask on highlighted all of the physical and mental impacts of it. Firstly, I could breathe so much easier. You may recall I mentioned in a recent article that one of the books I am reading is James Nestor’s Breath. Nestor recommends breathing deeply, slowly and largely through the nose as crucial to good health and wellbeing in the initial chapters, and certainly the mask has made this more of a challenge when doing physical activity. Even a brisk walk made me feel less easy in my breathing, and I found myself breathing more often through my mouth whilst wearing the mask. It was a genuine delight this morning to breathe freely through the nose as I went up the street for that morning coffee. I even felt fitter simply through that freer breathing.
And then there is the psychological impact.
Face coverings made us feel like strangers to each other. You would pass someone in the street and could not exchange those friendly smiles that make you feel good about your community and the friendliness of the world at large. People were less likely to connect in accidental ways, less likely to be friendly to a stranger (especially as social distancing was also promoted) and less likely to engage in incidental chats. These things might seem small, but they potentially have a large impact on how positively we view the world and the people around us. Positive incidental interactions can help create optimism and hope – and there were less of these in lockdown.
Even today I noticed how much better it felt to smile at people as I walked down the street, and how much more readily people stopped to say hello (my dog often elicits conversation, it’s one of my favourite things about being a pet owner) than in the last few months. And once I reached the café and put my mask back on as I waited in line, the silence began again. Much to ponder here – and perhaps to be conscious of as we play different roles in community spaces.
Let’s be consciously grateful for these small interactions and try to foster these again, even in those moments in line with the mask on. Let’s consider them part of the celebration of how far we have come, and the normality we can embrace once more.
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels