All of us use our facial expressions to convey how we are feeling, whether we realize it or not. A bright smile, a quivering lip, or a grin so wide your excitement becomes contagious, are all utilized in our everyday lives to show someone how we are feeling in that moment.
While wearing masks, over half of our faces are covered and our emotions, that could once be read in an instant by just looking at our face, are now hidden. Masks are our new reality, and while they might not be ideal, they are crucial in fighting the spread of germs not only for ourselves, but for all of our friends, families and communities. Since masks are essential and there is no end date as to when they will be considered “out of style”, it is important to be mindful about how our communication is affected. These small gentle facial gestures mean so much to us and especially to developing young children.
Emotions and feelings that could once be conveyed non-verbally, or even instinctually, now may not come across the same or be portrayed at all. There are some helpful tips and tricks that can benefit us in our everyday communications while wearing a mask including body language, eye contact, verbal communication, tone, and continuing to smile through the difficult times.
Be mindful about body language.
Your non-verbal cues are still important, even if your face cannot be used as an effective tool. Body language is actually proving to be more important nowadays because of the mask covering our faces. Relaxing your shoulders, keeping your arms loose and relaxed at your sides, and nodding to show you are listening are all ways to use your body language effectively. These practices are great to show someone you are calm, kind, and listening to what they have to say. In addition, when speaking with children who might be intimidated by the inability to see faces, hand gestures such as thumbs up, clapping, or air high fives, are great ways to make them feel comfortable and to display your emotions.
Use your eyes to help you.
While we can’t see our smiles or frowns under our masks, our eyes are actually very telling to the person that we are communicating with. Good eye contact is more important than ever now and people can tell a lot from what your brows are doing. Raising of eyebrows is a great way to show surprise or excitement and send a message that can not be told by our mouths. Our eyes also squint or become a bit smaller when we are smiling under our masks, which can be picked up on easily by the person we are talking to. A helpful tip in regards to communicating with children or students is to think about our eyes as if they are on our favorite cartoon character. Characters’ eyes tend to grow extremely wide when they are showing excitement and when we feel our own eyes growing a bit, exaggerating them can portray our emotions even stronger.
Speak your emotions.
This is something that may seem awkward or silly in the moment, but is actually extremely helpful when trying to get an emotion across. We have to think about what our faces were saying before we had to wear a mask and maybe express those thoughts verbally. When someone tells you a story that made them very happy, don’t be afraid to say “I am so happy for you!”. Or when you are explaining a situation that you are extremely excited about, say “This is such an exciting opportunity for me!”. Sometimes it is hard for us to be able to confidently express our emotions verbally, but it can be a great tool for conveying feelings that might not be picked up on due to our masks. This is another great tip for communicating with children through a mask. Normalizing speaking our emotions is a great example for kids that may be nervous to explain how they are feeling. Lead by example and show children and students that it is okay and helpful to state how we are feeling, even if we didn’t have to before.
Focus on your tone and volume.
Tone and volume say a lot about how we are feeling and it may be something that we never noticed before. Making sure that we are speaking in a tone that matches our emotions helps others to know how we are feeling. Many people report feeling as though we have to speak louder because of the mask covering our mouths. While this may be true in some situations where lip reading comes into play, it may actually not be necessary in day to day situations. Gaging whether or not you can actively listen to another person instead of trying to decipher what they are saying is a great way to adjust your own volume. We also can’t be afraid to ask one another if they can hear us! Checking with the person that you are communicating with about your own volume creates an open space in which you and your peers can help each other modulate volume and make sure you are hearing everything that they want to convey. In addition, when speaking with students and children, volume and tone is extremely important. Raising our volume because we feel as though they cannot hear us may actually convey that we are upset, angry or that they are in trouble. Checking in frequently to make sure they heard you and that you can hear them is a great way to avoid miscommunication through volume or tone.
Smile under that mask!
Even though we are unable to see each other’s smiles under our masks, it is actually such a great communication tool to continue to smile! Our eyes, cheeks and eyebrows change or raise when we are smiling, which can be picked up on by others. In addition, smiling can actually raise our own mood too! Just because they cannot be readily seen does not mean we have to stop naturally showing our happiness, kindness, and empathy with others. Masks are crucial right now, but not permanent. Don’t lose your smile because of something temporary.
Right now, masks are a part of our everyday life. While they pose many different challenges, they are also crucial in fighting the disease that has changed everyone’s lives. Instead of fighting the obstacles of communication with our masks, remaining calm, mindful, and expressive will aid in making communication much easier and effective regardless of our masks. Our Team at Long Island Teletherapy remains here to support you during this most confusing and uncharted time.
Submitted by Emily, Dolan, LMSW