How to navigate judgement and questions if you want to keep wearing face masks

Today is so-called Freedom Day – meaning most Covid restrictions have now been dropped. And life can return to normal.

Although it’s not really returning to normal, is it? Nothing feels particularly normal yet. And plenty of people won’t feel ready to abandon the safety measures that have been in place for the majority of the pandemic.

Throughout the last 18 months, mask wearing has been a huge point of contention for some.

Some people have consistently questioned their usefulness, or seen them as the ultimate symbol of constraint and restriction.

But for others, masks have felt like a protection barrier. Both for themselves and others. Wearing a mask has allowed people to go on public transport, get to work, go the shops, with slightly less fear of getting infected, or infecting others.

After months of wearing a mask in the majority of public spaces – letting go of that is going to feel strange, and lots of people just won’t want to.

In fact, according to the latest survey by the Office for National Statistics, two-thirds (64%) of adults in the UK said they still plan to cover their faces in shops, following the lifting of the legal requirement to wear them in indoor settings in England.

The same number (64%) plan to wear masks on public transport, while 60% plan to avoid crowded places.

That’s a lot of people who will still be wearing their masks. But, as mask wearing has already proved a divisive issue, the next few weeks and months are likely to throw up certain tensions between people who still want to wear masks, and those who don’t see the need.

But, just because the rules about mask wearing have been relaxed in most public places (although some places are still asking customers and visitors to keep wearing masks), that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to wear one.

Wearing a mask isn’t going to harm those who are choosing not to wear a mask, but that won’t always stop people from being judgemental, critical, or even aggressive about your choice.

If you have experienced this, or if you’re worried about possible tensions arising from your decision to continue wearing a mask, we asked some experts how to navigate this complex situation and how to set your own boundaries.

‘Understanding yourself and what’s in line with your own core values is really important when being able to stand by any decision you make,’ says life coach Jill Ritchie. 

‘A great way to do this is to journal. Get everything that’s in your head on to paper. The mind can often feel confused and uncertain, but brain dumping allows you to separate the noise from your truth. This exercise allows you to get really clear on your “why”

‘Why are you choosing this way for you? Understanding this on a deeper level allows you to feel certain, strong and empowered. Once you feel this, it’s much easier to create a healthy boundary with others.’

Jill adds that we all need to work hard to be less judgemental about other people’s actions, and to practice more compassion and kindness.

‘Remember, everyone is on their own journey,’ Jill tells us. ‘Some are very fearful, and some less so.

‘You are only responsible for the decisions you make. No one has walked a day in the others shoes, therefore no one can really know another persons decisions and why they have chosen the way they have.  

‘Instead of judgment, get curious about their life. They may be experiencing something, or have experienced something that you will never know. 

‘Doing this allows you to see past the mask or no mask. It allows you to see the person with curiosity, often leading to compassion and kindness.’

Do you have to wear a mask on public transport?

It was confirmed by Sajid Javid on July 12 that the legal requirement to wear a mask on public transport, as well as in other enclosed spaces such as shops, will end on July 19 when other restrictions are lifted.

This would technically mean that it will no longer be mandatory to wear a mask on trains, buses, Tubes or other forms of public transport after this date – however, that doesn’t necessarily mean the end for face coverings – with many transport companies having set their own rules about whether or not masks will be required from today.

London Transport has said that masks will continue to be mandatory on its train, Tube, overground and bus services, as well as in black taxis and private hire vehicles.

Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has said that masks will be a requirement on the city’s Metrolink tram and also at Manchester Airport, while other parts of the country have urged passengers to continue wearing face coverings if they are using public transport.

Life coach and NLP practitioner Faith Hill says that coping with this uncertain situation comes down to understanding what you are in control of, and what you are not.

‘Bar a few situations or locations, the entire “to wear or not to wear” saga now boils down to personal choice,’ says Faith.

‘After being restricted by so many rules for so long, this is time of transition as everyone settles into having some freedom of choice again. As you navigate this transition, it is important to remember what you are – and are not – in control of.’

Faith explains that you are only ever in control of your own choices and actions, not the choices or actions of the people around you. She says knowing this can help you stay strong in your own decisions.

‘And, on the other hand, it can help you let go of being upset by someone else’s decision,’ she adds.

‘In the same vein, you are not in control of how other people react or respond to you, but you are in control of your reactions and responses to other people.

‘If you choose to continue wearing a mask, be assured that you have made the right choice for you. Others may make a different choice, but that is theirs to decide.’

Women’s business and mindset coach Yinka Ewuola says it’s important to ask yourself whose judgement or criticism you are taking on, and why.

‘These choices are intensely personal and where there are no strict rules anymore, it’s important to know where you stand and be grounded in your reasons and values,’ says Yinka.

‘Everyone has their reasons and no one will likely convince anyone else to do things differently to those beliefs, so it is really important to remind yourself to give the respect to others that you would want for yourself.’

She adds that communication is also really key.

‘I have events coming back and I’m asking hosts preferences around masks and distancing so that I don’t overstep their boundaries,’ she says. ‘I make sure that I’m clear about their expectations and preferences. Safety remains of paramount importance to me, as I’ve had members of my extended family catch the virus.

‘I know Covid is still around and is still incredibly dangerous, and can do much more harm to me than the criticism or judgement of friends.’

As well as navigating judgement from strangers, or colleagues, you might also find yourself in tricky situations with friends.

Your friends might not want to wear masks now that the rules have been relaxed, and that can cause some tension between you if you don’t see eye-to-eye. But it doesn’t have to.

‘If you choose to wear a mask and your friends choose not to, that’s OK,’ says Faith. ‘Everyone has the authority to make their own choices, for their own reasons. If you can accept their choice, they can accept yours.

‘A clear and simple sentence such as; “I personally choose to wear a mask for now,” will relay your decision in a swift manner and stop further discussion or argument. Say it a second time for clarity if your friend persists.

‘Should someone pass judgement on you for your own personal choice to continue wearing a mask, remember you are not in control of their words or actions, but you are in control of what you say or how you respond to them.

‘You can choose to argue your point, or choose to accept that each of you thinks differently and just get on with it.’

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