When I’m not sitting behind the sewing machine, I work full-time as a psychologist. This is why I every once in a while share a mental health-related post on this blog. Please grab a coffee and join the conversation!
Hello there! I hope you’re all healthy and doing fine considering the circumstances. It’s hard not to lose the spirit these days.
I’ve been thinking long and hard about chiming in on the handmade face masks topic. I had a pretty divided opinion on this and the (scientific) benefit of using them until I was asked by my employer to make some for our team. This quickly spiralled into making them almost full-time for the care workers and children and adolescents in our institution.
You cannot sew face masks full-time without believing in it if you want to stay sane.
I tried to find as many articles and input by virologists and medical personnel on the topic as possible and read as much as I could. I don’t want to go into too many details on the medical side of things other than that wearing a mask, even a makeshift cotton face mask, is better than wearing none.
I could go on endlessly about the benefits of sewing in general, but today we will talk about making face masks. If you want to learn more about how sewing impacts your mental health, I’ve written some articles that you can find here.
Grab a coffee, here we go!
So, let’s talk about the psychological effects on sewing and wearing makeshift fabric masks. There are some seriously brilliant benefits of sewing/wearing your own masks! I’ve also included some critical thoughts though, as I believe looking at an issue from as many different angles as possible is more valuable and helps to gain a more holistic understanding.
The benefits of sewing your own fabric masks:
- Get away from the constant feeling of helplessness: In a global crisis like this, we can easily feel overwhelmed and absolutely powerless. Actively doing something gives you a sense of control and self-empowerment. You’re not stopping the crisis by making a handful of masks, but being able to help even the tiniest amount, can be really beneficial to your own mental health in the current situation.
- Feeling productive! A sense of accomplishment is invaluable for our self-esteem. If you are out of work right now or working a lot less than before, major changes in daily routines and productivity can lead to stress and feelings of anxiety. Getting involved in easy, fail-proof little projects like sewing some fabric masks can really make you feel a little better. Obviously, if you are really struggling with your workload right now, it might not help to add even more to-dos! If you are interested in reading more about how sewing increases mindfulness, reduces stress and might help with your self-esteem, have a look at an article I wrote about the mental health benefits of sewing in general.
- Active solidarity can really help lift up your mood: Take part in mask sewing actions if you feel like it! Any solidary action will also make you feel a little less alone. This can really be helpful when living in constant isolation.
- Give some away to the elderly in your family, your parents and friends. I’ve gotten some really great feedback. No matter whether they wear it or not, everyone loves a little care package. Being pro-social and helping others reinforces your sense of fulfilment and purpose as well as relatedness to others. Altruistic behavior has been proven to help with depression. Your brain’s reward system causes a neurotransmitter release that makes you feel happier and more content. Our brain is amazing!
- De-stash and declutter your fabric pile! Use up all those cotton scraps from your last quilting projects or summer blouses. Decluttering frees up the mind as well as your home. I find heaps of material and huge fabric stashes really stressful. They’re a constant reminder of what I haven’t done yet! I also struggle getting rid of scraps and smaller pieces of (perfectly good) fabric. These fabric masks are perfect for that!
- Let’s make the current situation a little less scary! Making your own masks, you can use whatever print you like. I’ve made a point of using only very cute or funny prints for the masks I’ve sewn for the kids at work. It’s a scary time for kids that have difficulty understanding the circumstances. Special needs kids or adolescents with mental health issues might really struggle right now. Making your own masks gives the opportunity of making them fun and not-scary. They might give a little comfort in a very uncomfortable situation. Getting kids engaged more easily by having fun masks makes it a lot easier to educate them on necessary hygiene rules and social distancing.
Things to keep in mind:
- For everyone who wants to donate:
Before donating any masks blindly to hospitals or other medical institutions, please ask for specific requirements for materials and construction. Some of them might not accept makeshift masks, some of them do. Get as much information as you can!
- Please do not feel pressured into sewing masks, just because you’re a sewist. It’s absolutely understandable if your resources are needed elsewhere or you simply don’t feel like it. Just because you know how to sew, does not mean there is any obligation to jump on the mask-sewing bandwagon.
- Sewing a lot of masks can feel very repetitive and draining. Stay realistic about how many you can and actually want to sew. Take breaks, be creative with colours and prints, take good care of yourself (e.g. stop if you feel physical discomfort or pain!).
- Also don’t forget: Making your own masks will help prevent systemically relevant workers from running out of much needed protective wear. The worst thing you can do at the moment is buy up medical protective equipment for your own personal use. If you’re part of the at-risk group and rely on PPE for some important reason – wearing a makeshift fabric mask over your PPE can help getting more wears out of it.
Whether you’ve made your own or not…don’t forget to wear them!
Although wearing makeshift masks isn’t even nearly as effective proper PPE masks, there are some really helpful psychological and social benefits that you should know about:
- Wearing a mask yourself is a helpful reminder at all times to not touch your face and keep your distance.
- You are a constant reminder to everyone around you that we’re in a very serious situation at the moment. People will automatically keep more distance from you and be more careful when they interact. Try it! You’ll be surprised how many people will steer clear of you in the supermarket aisle. At the moment, this is a good thing!
- When you wear handmade masks with fun prints you will make yourself and others smile! Again, any comfort helps in this uncomfortable situation.
- Someone who is very scared and anxious to go out at the moment, but might have to leave the house urgently might find wearing a mask a little more reassuring.
- Peer pressure might be good for once! Wearing a mask, you’re immediately an example for others. The more people wear masks in public, the more will follow. This simple concept of peer pressure can really help right now.
Further thoughts on wearing masks and some downsides:
- Wearing a makeshift mask can give you a false sense of security. Be aware that these masks are not equivalent with proper medical PPE. Washing your hands regularly and keeping your distance is still the most effective way of staying healthy right now.
- For those of you struggling with anxiety: Seeing others wearing masks or wearing one yourself can be a constant reminder of a very anxiety-inducing situation. It might be very difficult to stay calm and focus. Getting used to breathing through one or more layers of fabric is not easy. Especially for people with panic disorders this can trigger panic attacks. Try to get used to wearing them before you leave the house the first time. Take something to distract you – e.g. play a game on your phone or do breathing exercises while you have to wait in line.
By the way, losing you sewing mojo over sewing face masks non-stop is a real thing. I haven’t touched my sewing machine at home while I was sewing at work. Don’t worry, your mojo will come back. Don’t stress about it!
What are you doing for your mental health these days? Are you sewing up a storm or have you lost your sewing mojo? I’d love to hear from you!
Stay safe & stay home.
Stay in touch!