In my opinion the outrage at people not wearing masks is well-placed, but useless. Personally, I can feel my blood pressure spiking when I see someone without a mask in public. Every stress bell in my body starts ringing. But we know that stress and immune function are related, so I’d say my outrage is counterproductive at best.
If I see someone not wearing a mask, I am powerless to do anything about it, unless I want to tell them what to do. In my experience as a dog owner, telling random strangers to change their behavior is ill-advised, and maybe even dangerous. The only thing to do when you see someone with an ill-behaved dog is to leave, go, get away. Same with the unmasked. Move away from them. Take care of yourself and your family. Move along. So that’s my first tip:
- Skip the outrage. People like to think outrage is motivating, even meaningful. But it’s not. It’s really just like the windbag at the company meeting. Vocal, full of itself, but when it comes down to assigning tasks, to actually getting the work done, it falls conspicuously silent. To achieve this step, you’ve got to be humble. Be ready to back up, literally. You even have to be ready to scrap your plans. Leave the restaurant. Go back to the car. Walk the dog the other way. Basically, be ready to swallow your pride and get out of Dodge. The goal? Keep your blood pressure down and your immune system running smoothly.
One image has stuck with me throughout this pandemic. It’s from the Four Continents Figure Skating Championship, which took place this February. I love watching figure skating. Like opera it is a truly international art form, and the competitions take place all over the world. This one was in Seoul, South Korea. The pandemic was already happening, and everyone in the audience, and I mean everyone, was wearing a mask. Like an audience at a tennis match, their heads moved back and forth in sync to follow the action, and despite the fact that their smiles were invisible, somehow you could feel the delight coming from them. They were having a great time watching the skating, in masks.
Culturally, we rugged individualists, the Teddy Roosevelt-style Americans are at a disadvantage about this new, sudden requirement. Not because masks itch, or cost money, or represent frailty, but because who the hell are you to tell me what to do? People like to compare this to seat belts when they try to shame the non-mask wearing online, but they have amnesia about what a long, hard-fought battle it was to get seat belts in cars. (And God bless Ralph Nader, by the way, for winning it.) But really, as a nationality we don’t take well to being given orders to change our behavior, even for the Greater Good. This leads me to tip number two:
- Swallow your pride. It’s not about you, it’s about your Grandma, or your elderly neighbor, or maybe even you, or, quite possibly, your job. The economy needs you to wear a mask. Pitch in and help. As they said during World War II, “do your bit.”
As a musician in my 50s, my ideas about talent have changed from when I was in my 20s. In my 20s I had the idea that talent was some kind of coronation, and I had everyone, actors and singers, ranked. But over the years I’ve seen the standings change. I've seen mega-talented singers be surpassed by the hardworking mediocre ones, and I just watched a new movie yesterday with a guy about my age whom I had categorized as a “lousy actor” back when we were young. He was excellent. What happened? He practiced. Art is a lot less mysterious than we think. Those who do it regularly get better at it. The same is true for wearing a mask. You know how to get better at wearing it? By wearing it. This leads me to my final tip:
- Practice. Of course you want to tear the mask off as soon as you get home, but if you really want to get used to it, try wearing one when you don’t need to. I quickly learned that just putting on a mask and leaving it on is much less unpleasant than taking it on and off and worrying about it. Just get used to it. Buy one you like, or several, and wear them. If you go out, leave it on. And if you aren't going out much, occasionally even wear one around the house. Especially wear them while you are doing things you enjoy so you imprint that mask = pleasant. You may also find that there are times to wear it that are useful. Wearing a mask while gardening I spared myself from hay fever and was able to garden much longer and more comfortably than I usually do. Vacuuming is a great time to wear a mask to spare your lungs, likewise dusting.
The great trumpeter Wynton Marsalis said that when he was young his father told him, “If you want to be really special, do something that nobody else wants to do: practice.” His father was the great pianist Ellis Marsalis, who passed away in March from complications from COVID 19.
In honor of him, let’s take his advice. Let’s practice.
A few other thoughts on comfort:
I don’t like the feeling of loops behind my ear so I’m wearing a mask that attaches around the back of my head. If you are the same way, you can adapt an ear mask to take the pressure off with a clip or a simple piece of elastic with two buttons well sewn on: Buy Ear Saver on Etsy or Buy Plastic Clips on Amazon
I put a drop or two of essential oil on the inside of my mask when I go out. I find it makes it very pleasant to wear, and if I choose something like lavender, it helps calm me down from the stress of being out. For associating with the mask as something pleasant, this is a great trick. No profit for me, just a good local store I love that delivers nice oils: https://lhasakarnak.com
You probably know the soapy glasses trick by now to keep from fogging, but here it is just in case: Tips on Defogging Glasses
For women especially, the expectation that we smile all the time, no matter how we are feeling, is very real. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to wear a mask, but the silver lining here is some the time off from people-pleasing. More thoughts on this here: Times Article on Smiling and Mask Wearing
Lastly, let’s take inspiration from those figure skating fans. We will find our way back to doing the things we love, and we will enjoy them, all while wearing a mask. Because…
1. We won’t waste energy being outraged.
2. We won’t take it personally.
3. We’ll get pretty good at it!