Makeshift Masks and Mental Health

Makeshift Masks and Mental HealthMakeshift Masks and Mental Health

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!

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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

Makeshift Masks and Mental Health
Makeshift Masks and Mental Health

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.

Makeshift Masks and Mental Health

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! 

Makeshift Masks and Mental Health

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.

xx

Charlie


Happy sewing!

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32 thoughts on “Makeshift Masks and Mental Health

  1. Very through review of making masks. Unfortunately, I think they are here for awhile and soon, it may be a requirement to wear them when out.

    1. Thank you, Karen. Yes, I don’t think they’ll be gone that quickly! That’s why it’s important to make/wear environmentally friendly, reusable masks for people not required to use proper PPE.

  2. Great post…. I’ve made 22 masks so far. The local hospital and nursing homes did want them, so our local quilt store is collecting them. As requested, I made them with a pocket for a filter. I gave 12 of the masks to the local Humane Society. The employees appreciated them, as they deal with the public to try to get the dogs and cats adopted. As the Covid threat is not big in my rural county (4 cases so far, no deaths), I’m taking a break from masks for a while.

    Making masks was the one thing I could do to help out. When I get the government relief check (which I don’t need), I plan on giving the money to someone who really needs it, or will donate it to a charity that is helping to fight the effects of Covid. Other than social distancing, etc., and praying, I don’t feel there is much else I can do.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this blog!

    1. Thank you for your contributions, Lousie, I’m sure they’re greatly appreciated! Hope you enjoy the sewing x

  3. Thank you for a great post, Charlie! I’ve made 60 for a food redistribution charity that asked me. You are right, it did feel good to be doing something. I feel a bit bad for sewing clothes now, because I really don’t need anything new and I’m not going anywhere. So that’s a great way to still stay in front of the sewing machine. I am still working full time unfortunately, which is not allowing me a lot of time to sew. I churned 30 in a day over Easter, but that was really draining and boring. But when the volunteers picked them up and really liked them, it felt amazing!

    1. I made quite a few for people at work and their reactions kept me going, too! Making so many can feel really repetetive after a while, it’s important to take breaks and squeeze in some selfish sewing every now and then 😉

  4. Great posts. I reached a point around mask 45 where I had to walk away. I was DONE. Was I being selfish? I had to protect my sanity. I have been hit with an anxiety over this pandemic like I have not felt in years. This did not help it. I am a very creative person and this sucked all the creative juice right out of me. The interesting thing was when I mentioned this to numerous others they said the same thing. They sort of stopped on a dime, couldn’t take it any more either and it drained the heck out of them. It felt like a matter of self preservation when I stopped. I applaud those who continue. I could not go right back to my creative efforts but have been totally reorganizing my studio and in doing so getting great inspiration to get going again. It has also given me a great sense of control once again. Thanks for your post, very enlightening.

    1. I can totally relate. I was sewing fulltime for two days in a row at work and made about 60-80 masks. It was the days just before my Easter break. I could not look at my sewing machine and it felt like I would never want to touch it again or sew another mask. Luckily, having a week off really helped, I even made a couple of masks for my family after that and it was fun again.
      I guess it also has a lot to do with how serious we take our sewing. Making those masks for my family was really fun and I enjoyed sewing for people I know. I think sewing for 8 hours straight, making lots and lots for strangers feels more like assembly-line work than anything else. It’s really important not to turn something we enjoy and use to wind down into something that feels like work. Making just a couple and enjoying the process is much better than to blast out 50+ and feel terrible about it afterwards. Glad you found some inspiration in your studio!

  5. Thanks so much for the thoughtful analysis of mask-making! I was inspired to start make some when my sister-in-law asked me to make her two, but then cut out waaaayyy too many, and felt totally overwhelmed about “having” to finish them, so parked the lot after finishing six. Then, a doctor friend asked me to make a set for her and her family for their grocery trips etc, and I thought “well, of course”. Using fun prints from my stash and seeing people’s reactions (I’m coming up with #pundemic names for each “model” of mask as well) has been fun, and over the past few days I’ve started switching frequently between the mask work and my other, regular, sewing-for-pleasure projects. It’s made it much more fun.

    1. Hi Sarah! Yeah, it might feel quite draining after a while. I have the same issue with sewing for others. For some reason I get bored and uninspired very easily, if it’s not a “selfish” project. I’ve learnt to say no to some requests, because some projects really became such a pain… With the mask-sewing I have the rule, that I say no to people, who own a sewing machine themselves. I send them the pattern instead 😉 x

  6. This is such a great post – and exactly my daughter’s experience. She’s a senior, very freaked out about what’s happening now – and what will be happening next year. (Will she get to attend college in person? Will she take a gap year? Will she have to do online classes with people she’s never met?) She started making masks and donating them to United Way, who is handling distribution to organizations in our area. Not only that – she created a website (www.10000masks.com) where she posted a video tutorial teaching people how to sew masks, and encouraging them to log what they’ve made and donated. She checks the responses every day, and it really helps her to feel like she’s part of a group doing some good in these uncertain times. She’s still freaked out about the future, but this is making her feel less helpless in the present.

  7. I’m so happy to see a post about making masks! One more aspect I would add is this: when all this started I found myself obsessed (even more than usual) with sewing stuff. Anything. I just had to be in there reading patterns and making things I’d never made before. I needed the challenge, plus I think it was the only place where there was no pandemic. I could make bags and pretend everything was fine. Once I started making masks, it was harder for me to pretend everything was normal. The act of making a mask reminds me every minute of WHY I’m making masks. Now, I make them in spurts and distribute them, then for a few days let my sewing room return once again to a place of safe denial. I want to help, but I also need that safe space where the most important thing in my world is putting this zipper on right. We all just have to do what we can.

    1. Thats a really good point. It’s really helpful to change it up a bit and not get too stuck on one thing, especially if you don’t enjoy it as much as your other sewing. I made a cute stuffed dachshund the other night, because I needed a break from masks 🙂

  8. I have been sewing masks for family and friends; giving them to a nursing home where my niece works. Have mailed them to the UK and gave some to mailmen and grocery clerks. I miss my volunteering at Hospice and want to fulfill my need to help, even if it is my small corner of this world. I take multiple days break away from masks and cut fabric for garments for me, read, whatever feeds my needs. Taking care of myself is important. Thanks for your blog. I knew I was never alone. 🙂

    1. That’s amazing, Joan! And yes, it really helps to take breaks and do some others things every now and then. It shouldn’t start to feel like a chore.

  9. That feeling of helplessness that is abated by one small positive action really is empowering. That is exactly my experience. Several of my Facebook friends were sewing and selling masks but I didn’t want to profit from other people’s misfortunes. (Just my personal view, not intended to offend anyone.) I made a few masks for co-workers and then my daughter in law requested masks at the hospital where she works. They give these masks to patients when they are discharged. I was so inspired while making these masks! I made several sizes, and, I admit, held back tears when making the small ones. I’ll continue to make masks when asked but all other times will be devoted to my therapy which is making. Many things. Many genres. Feeding my soul.

    1. Oh, good for you! That’s amazing. Yes, making childrens masks can be depressing… 🙁 Sewing can be such a wonderful resource! Happy sewing!

  10. Thank you for writing this, especially for the mental health reminders. Yes, the masks everywhere have been stoking my anxiety, yes, I’ve felt pressured and upset by people I barely know expecting me to sew masks for them because they know I have a sewing machine, and I don’t think you mentioned this one, but I was unpleasantly surprised to realize that the Zoom meetings that our church choir is doing to “stay connected” are only making me feel more disconnected, isolated, and put on the spot with all those faces staring back at me on my monitor screen — it feels very different than being together in person. But everyone else is gushing about how wonderful it is to “connect” that way, so I’m feeling pressured to keep logging on for those things every week. This is all so stressful! I just want to turn off the news, turn off the computer, and do some relaxing sewing that has nothing to do with viral respiratory droplet particles.

    1. Interesting you’d mention the Zoom meetings as I was thinking about this the other day. A lot of people share the feeling of disconnectedness and Feeling really drained after calls. This seems to have to do with the concept of “cognitive dissonance”, when the mind has trouble to unite opposing states or thoughts. Being in a call gives the illustion of being together while your body and mind experience loneliness and isolation at the same time. It’s difficult and tiring for our mind to process both at the same time as it cannot dissolve that internal conflict. At the same time it’s a constant reminder of the difficult times we’re in right now, as you said. I think it’s a good idea to shut out all communication channels every now and then. Enjoy some sewing! x

  11. I started making masks for me, my family and close friends, because I couldn’t just stay home and not help others. As an artist I felt myself only seeing darkness and sadness, I could not paint,
    Draw something.
    I felt good by making something special for people around me. Friends loved my masks and they kept sending their friends to me, i have donated more than 25% of the masks I have made and I feel good about it. That’s a wonderful way to keep sane during all this rough times .

  12. What a joy to read this article – thank you.
    I am in week 9 of total lockdown as my physical health is vulnerable and my mental health is not finding this situation easy. I am however totally alone having been widowed from my best friend and only relative Feb 2019.
    I had researched masks and my gut feeling was that they are going to be necessery for the future, and that for a long time.
    In the UK we are constantly told not to bother. Your well argued research and article prove to me that I should
    listen to my gut feelings, they are invariably right 🙂
    I have recently seen a mask pattern for a built in plastic visor, my concern is it going through a 60% wash so I am
    now planning how to make it safely detachable.
    With regards to children’s masks they were my first thought. How scary grown ups in masks so make them their own in fun fabric.

    1. Hi Lucy – this must be a very difficult time for you! Glad to hear you found some comfort in designing and sewing masks! Your idea sounds pretty cool. I love sewing masks for kids, although it sometimes makes me feel quite sad to see those tiny masks. I use super fun cotton fabrics with childrens prints. The kids love them and one girl asked me to make one for her doll, too. Stay safe!

  13. This was a very nice break/read from mask making mania! My fellow sewist friend posted it on FB and I had to read it. Refreshing change from most of blah, blah, blah about how ” cute” these masks are….Since psychology is one of my masters, I found that part esp. interesting too.
    I sew professionally [ custom interior designer] and was asked by a dear friend to make some for her Dr. They loved them and asked for more. Then I got sorrowful pleas from friends who’s adult kids work front lines as medics, if I was making them? I could not say no!!!
    I knew the fabric pleated style was really NOT medically safe, so I did some research. I started out doing the cup shaped, molded ones with a lining that allowed the insert of a filter. I probably made a few hundred of them which I donated to these folks and their kids- all medical people! I made sure they could all be bleached and washed in very hot water! I also used very dense poly spun interfacing for lining and double-layer basic masks- can be washed on very hot and bleached! Very dense to keep out microbes!
    Meanwhile, I was waiting for the coveted order of Halyard H100-600 sterilization material that the UFA dept. deemed as good as an N95 if not better. I had my pattern, prototype and cutting system all down pat and ready to rip when it arrived, finally! Just tonight, oddly, I am finishing the last of that material-first bundle. I got a second bundle, in case, which I hope not…
    I have made upwards of, if not over 1,000 masks now. Yes, 1,000!!! Probably 600 in the fabric and interfacing materials and over 400+ in the Halyard. The Halyard is amazing! It is impervious to the virus and all microbes and I line them with the poly spun as well. I am blessed to have had 1,000’s of yrds of elastic [ I ran out!] and enough military grade thread for an army, so, I was well equipped to start with! I use very good quality pipe cleaners for the nose pinch wire and have gone through 3 Amazon orders of them, in addition to all the ones I lifted from hubby’s pipe use! LOL!
    I am charging for the Halyard masks on my artist website and FB. Very inexpensive and they can be re-used, washed, bleached multiple times. It is paying my bills and expenses, and the cost of supplies for these; right now my business is dead, greatly impacted by the shut down!
    I use an assembly line system to crank them out by batches of 16-32. It is laborious, tedious and very intense!!! The demand is enormous and I just barely keep up, even going like a mad woman every day since this began! I work at least 8 hours a day on them….
    It is an intense experience with an aura of much sadness surrounding the entire process! I do get down and I am very, very tired! I am 68. It is wearing….I remind myself of this; I am busy, I am grateful and blessed!!! I am sewing which I love, even if it’s tedious, repeatative and not creative. I am blessed with the talent and resources to make these medical grade masks; if just one saves a life, I have done my job! I am contributing to the ” war efforts” as my parents did during WW11! I am offering a valuable, needed item to my community and fellow man! I am comfortable in my lovely studio, unlike so many of the health workers these days, working themselves to the breaking point! I am blessed!
    Having a heart of gratitude goes a long way in trying times; how one frames and accepts the trials and tribulations is a defining factor in how they will fare under duress and stress and inconveniences! I wish you all the best! Thank you for the fine article and the comments were good too!

  14. I never really thought about it but you’re right when you say “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.” this is so true. I don’t go out much myself other than to drop my hubby at work or pick him up from work and I notice that people lining up to go in the store tend to stand further apart from someone wearing a mask, which is odd, you’d think in a global pandemic it would be the other way around. At first, I figured it was because the ones standing closer might have been from the same family but recently they started only allowing one person in per family unless there was some specific circumstance where they couldn’t (ie single parent, etc) and it’s still happening with people you watch come from 2 different cars. It’s interesting psychologically! I don’t have a sewing machine or I would love to sew some masks. My mom has been. Thanks for this post it was very informational and interesting to read 🙂

    Kirsten | A Story About A Girl

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