Masked out facial expression and missed social connect: ‘Effects’ and tips to combat it

Ms Sneha John, Clinical Psychologist, Child & Adult Mental Health, Medcare Camali Clinic

Facial expressions are important components of human interactions. While masks ensure safety, they also hide the conundrum of emotions and non-verbal cues that are seen in conversations. They make it harder for people to display a whole range of emotions including happiness, discomfort or sadness.

About 90% of our communication is non-verbal in nature, out of which around 50% is done through visual cues. We miss a major part of the communication package and this causes people to misinterpret facial expressions which may in turn create confusion within relationships.

Social bonds are formed by seeing the behavior of others and mirroring their emotions. Through this mirroring of one another, we evaluate interactions positively and feel closer to the other person. However, there are ways to resolve this barrier:

  • While the lower half of the face is covered, we can make use of gestures and tone of voice.
  • Non-verbal gestures such as hand and shoulder movements can help express ourselves better.
  • Our eyes, which are naturally expressive, can help convey emotions such as sadness, happiness or excitement.
  • Intentionally using our tone of voice by pacing our inflections, such that we alternate between high and low inflections depending on the conversation, can prove helpful.
  • Name emotions out loud so that you may be able to convey how you are feeling. For example, saying ‘I feel worried or upset about this.’
  • Be sure to smile under your mask even if others may not be able to see it.
  • Smiling involves a host of different actions such as the widening of your eyes, expansion of your cheek muscles and releasing of hormones called endorphins which create a sense of comfort.
  • Lastly, be patient as you try to understand what the other person wants to communicate. If speech seems muffled and unclear because of the mask, articulate what you have understood to avoid confusions.