A Message from Courtney Medical Group

What’s Beneath the Mask

First impressions can make or break a relationship. Studies show we decide another person’s fate in 1/10th of a second. This was a necessity when having to define someone as friend or foe in order to survive. Now, it usually determines the path of a future relationship. Physical appearance, not just looks, but posture, accessories, and clothing choices impact that decision. Facial expressions top that list.

When three quarters of our faces are covered and we’re forced to distance ourselves, the ability to read simple human emotions is lost, making us more distrustful and anxious. Facial expressions show our true feelings. Without those cues, we are lost. Floundering when trying to discern what the other is really thinking. Amazingly enough most emotions are exhibited through micro expressions- those we exhibit without ever thinking about them in a 1/15th to 1/25th of a second. Seven are considered universal, meaning they cross all cultural barriers and are inherent to all humans- disgust, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise and contempt. And even though we may not consciously pick up on these expressions, our brain sees them and immediate senses what the other is truly saying. 

How often have you felt the smile you saw was “off”? But didn’t quite know why.  Or regardless of the hug, nice comments and pat on the back, it feels like you’re being stabbed instead? That’s because the brain realized the gestures were artificial even when it was too quick to follow consciously- the smile didn’t reach the eyes where it extends to when sincere, or the universal sign for contempt flashed ever so briefly while being told all was good.

Those micro expressions give us a general feeling of comfort or concern regardless of what was said. But a mask hides 75% of those movements. Making interpretation, if not impossible, definitely harder to interpret.

Right now masks are are a necessary part of our lives. They keep us safe and healthy. Studies have proven they act as an effective barrier to keep infected droplets, spewed several feet in even normal conversation, from infecting others. With higher vaccination rates, upcoming oral treatments for COVID, and widespread infections that have increased the percentage of those with at least temporary immunity, there’s more hope than ever that masks, at least in some cases, can soon disappear. But when or for how long is still unclear. So for now, how do we get past this major impasse to fully connect as humans beings?

Some do it by adding their personality to masks by drawing a smile, using symbols or dressing them up in ways to reflect who they are, using gemstones, logos, hearts, etc. In the medical field to regain a sense of humanity, many healthcare workers enlarged photos of the bottom part of their faces and added it to their masks to complete the facial picture.

For others, it’s easier to make use of video chats. They don’t take the place of in person interactions, but when the masks are off we feel more connected. The entire image is interacting even if it’s from afar. 

Two thirds of the face may be covered, but the eyes still shine through. Make the most of the “window to our souls.” Many have been highlighting them so they appear bigger, more inviting and expressive. A real smile crinkles the eyes and makes them beam.

Better yet, take advantage of the wonderful weather in Arizona and other parts of the country and get outdoors. Take a walk, go to the park, or eat outside where the masks can come off. These precious moments can have a lasting effect.

Whatever you do, remember there’s a person under that mask going through the same issues you are. Feeling just as isolated, alone, afraid and overwhelmed. We may not be able to see it as clearly as we used to but what’s under that covering is another human being fighting to survive.  It’s imperative we all take a breath before speaking and show more compassion, thoughtfulness and understanding. Everyone is suffering. Together we can all make it to the other side.


Sources:

https://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2011/05/facial-expressions
https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/microexpression.htm
https://www.pnas.org/content/117/22/11875
https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/06/417906/still-confused-about-masks-heres-science-behind-how-face-masks-prevent

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