When the statewide school mask mandate is lifted in early March, the vast majority of New Jersey schools are expected to no longer require students to wear a face covering, and most kids will be thrilled to no longer have to wear a mask all day long.

But some children, parents, teachers and administrators may become anxious and nervous.

Greg Miller, a mental health counselor with Thriveworks in Cherry Hill, said not wearing a mask in school will signal a return to normalcy, which will be a very healthy development.

“But the flip side then is if there’s a little bit more confusion that’s a cause for potential anxiety with students and staff, especially if they’re a little bit more on the prudent side," he said.

Anxiety over no masks in schools

He said if a student tends to be a little more cautious than their peers, when the message changes from "masks save lives" to "masks are now up to you," it could cause a problem.

“There might be ambiguity and confusion, which could lead to some recklessness or some discomfort, and potentially lead to panic symptoms where a kid just can’t manage the anxiety and doesn’t have the coping skills to deal with the uncomfortable feelings they have,” he said

Miller said after relying on masking as a protection from the virus for two years, there may be a sense of unease and possibly panic for some.

“Is it just going to be the students who feel this? No, I believe there is going to be a contingent of parents, teachers, administrative staff that are going to feel a little bit uncomfortable, that are going to feel some anxiety, any type of big change is going to bring uncomfortable feelings,” he said.

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He said students who may feel more comfortable wearing a mask will probably face peer pressure to not wear one, which could the situation even more stressful.

Dealing with school anxiety over COVID

Miller said it’s important that students and teachers not be criticized or ostracized if they choose to wear a mask in school.

He said if individuals feel concerned about taking their mask off, it can be helpful to have a discussion about the reasons for wearing one so that they are either comfortable continuing to mask up while going against the grain or feel comfortable not wearing a mask while taking other safety steps.

Thriveworks is a mental health provider with clinics in New Jersey and across the nation. Thriveworks also offers online telehealth services.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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