A Nation Divided: To Mask or Not to Mask


Doctor Neha: Hello everybody and welcome. Today’s video is going to be special and it’s on the topic of, “To Mask, or Not to Mask.” We’ve all gone through a lot of changes in the last year, and that’s brought up a lot of questions. During the pandemic, a dear friend of mine, Alise and I decided to give back by creating a public group called, “Conscious Community Café.” We wanted to create a virtual café where people could be physically distant but socially connected. We’ve run several of these over the past few months, and they covered important and interesting topics such as who to trust, and how to handle anxiety. Our café brought together a lot of people so they could have honest conversations with other people who had differing beliefs, and then we helped them to stay connected and learn from one another.

Normally we don’t share those experiences, but during a recent café a moment came up that I knew I had to share. I had just finished teaching the Five Steps to Healing Anxiety—

  1. Get Present by Connecting to Your Body
  2. Name your Fear(s) (Bring them into the present)
  3. Expand your Perspective (Since anxiety is a failed attempt to control the future—grounding your fears and your body in the present helps to reduce one’s anxiety)
  4. Create an Affirmation (To interrupt your anxious thoughts)
  5. Asking Yourself “What would self-trust and courage do now?”

Anxiety is actually rooted in a lack of trust. At its base, it’s that you don’t trust that you’ll be able to handle what comes next. There’s a whole cycle of anxiety and anxious thoughts that follows.

In this café session, we explored anxiety, and right as we were about to close, one person asked a question and brought up their fears about wearing masks now and potentially in the future. In the video you will see me talk her through that fear in order to help her transform it.

After that conversation and after I had to leave, Alise, my co-host for the Conscious Community Café, stayed on with others to help them explore their reactions to the discussion. You’ll get to see how that one conversation dramatically affected the people who witnessed it.

I believe that the future of our world is about having these healing conversations, and I’m excited for you to get the chance to have a sneak peek into what happened in the Conscious Community Café.

I hope that this video will help you and those you love and lead that may be struggling with masks and social restrictions. Stay safe, and let’s heal through this together. I hope you enjoy!

Cathy: Here’s what we came up with in our conversation, and we are curious to hear what you have to say about this. My fear is that we as a society are all accepting the masks, the social distancing, and the physical distancing—and we’re calling it the “new normal.” My fear is that we really are going to make this our normal—this cannot be our normal. Where can we find peace in that?

Back in 1918-1919 (during the Spanish Flu), we were having the same conversations we are having today regarding masks and distancing. Those very issues we experienced 100 years ago, we are experiencing today. Are we going to get lost in this? That is my biggest fear. How do you find peace within that?

Doctor Neha: It depends from a biological perspective. We’ve been giving every different state their own choice in what they choose to enforce. Because this is a respiratory borne illness, we all breathe the same air, and we are all connected in this no matter what. The idea is that if we all work together in wearing masks and physical distancing, we have a chance of swiftly overcoming this virus. When we don’t act together, cases of the virus are actually going to peak at different times in different places, depending on the movement and behavior of society.

I don’t like the term, “social distancing.” I call it physical distancing, with deep and profound social connection. That’s what I hope for.

If we decide to physically separate, while maintaining deep social connection, and follow the rules of biology—wearing a mask so that the virus cannot spread—we’d be done with this virus in a couple of months. But that hasn’t happened.

I think at the base of the current spread—that people do not know what the truth is.

I’ve spent 25 years of my life studying this. How do I, as a doctor, go in the hospital, all gown-ed up all-day everyday, see 20 of the sickest hospitalized patients and not get sick myself? Because I wore a gown, washed my hands, and wore PPE. That’s how I did it. I have my own knowledge of science, and I have my own personal experience to know how this works.

Now, I think what we’re going through is something much bigger than a physical experience. I think the physical experience of the virus is what’s getting our attention, but this is actually a much deeper experience than what we’re going through.

  1. Who do you trust?
  2. What do you think is truth?
  3. What do you think matters?
  4. What are we willing to do collectively—and for what period of time?
  5. Or, are we going to do it separately?

There are many options to choose from. It just depends on what lesson we want to learn, and how long we want that to take. Is it possible that if we all do it separately, and in our own way, that the virus could continue to spread, we could get reinfected, and the virus could mutate? I don’t know the answer to all of this, but it’s entirely probable, that’s what viruses do.

Is there a chance that if we all act concertedly together that we could really bring this down to someplace manageable or even get rid of it? Yes, there is a possibility we can do that. There are other possibilities as well, like if an effective vaccine comes out. But it might be like the flu every year, where we would have to get a yearly vaccine. There’s a possibility that we come up with a medication. Lots of possibilities.

There are two phases of Coronavirus.

  1. In the first asymptomatic phase, the virus takes over your cells and uses your cells machinery to replicate itself. In that phase, you can use an anti-retroviral to stop it. Now the problem with that phase is that you don’t know you have the virus yet.
  2. In the second phase, by the time you’re getting symptoms, you’ve activated your entire immune response. Lung tissues are being damaged, clots can form in other organs.

I take issue with people assuming that children will be okay if they contract the virus. Don’t think that children don’t breathe, because they do. Their lungs will be affected too. We have to keep the children safe.

One thing that’s really interesting, though, is that there are universal principles of how this is spread, and then there’s unique biology—that if all of us (on this screen) happen to get Coronavirus, it will interact with each of us differently. For some people, they will need a ventilator. For some people, they will have mild symptoms, and they’ll be okay. We don’t know why this is happening yet. We don’t know why people are reacting to this differently.

Now with the general biology/medicine principles in place, I want to work with you on your fear. Cathy, your anxiety is real, and it is unique to you. Before, when we did the grounding activity for your body, were you able to do that?

Cathy: Yes.

Doctor Neha: Okay, great! Besides using the grounding activity to help with the anxiety, what did you write when we practiced the “Name that Fear” tool?

Cathy: I wrote down that I fear that this will never end. To clarify, I don’t mean just about the masks, for example. I fear that this is something we are going to have to do for the rest of our lives. Because if it solves this problem, maybe people will think that this is something we should keep doing. I fear that people are going to believe that the masks are the panacea of salvation and that we will wear them for the rest of our lives. Now, people are selling them on the internet, you can find them everywhere. This is the great new tool of the world. My fear is that if the masks save us from the coronavirus, people will keep wearing them as a preventative measure for future viruses.

Doctor Neha: Okay, I got it. Let’s look back at the “Name that Fear” tool. So the fear is, “What if wearing masks becomes a new normal?” Go underneath that question and expand your perspective. Right here, right now, what do you know about why we need masks?

Cathy: Right here, right now, masks help to reduce one’s airborne exposure to the virus.

Doctor Neha: Yeah, they help stop the spread. Right here, right now, we know that a mask—something that costs a dollar or less—is a tool that we can use to stop something that’s killing a lot of people.

Now, I want you to expand your perspective. Instead of worrying about the future, focus on what’s present. Do you wear a mask or do you not wear a mask?

Cathy: I wear a mask when I’m not feeling bitchy.

Doctor Neha: Thank you for being honest about that. In that experience, it’s not about masks, it’s now become about freedom and choice. It becomes something very different than masks. There’s health. There’s safety. There’s freedom. And there’s choice. What you want is a guarantee—that if you wear a mask now for the biological reasons that necessitate that, that you will have the freedom and the choice in the future not to wear masks all the time. Is that true?

Cathy: I had not thought of it in that perspective. but I suppose that could be true. Yes.

Doctor Neha: Because this isn’t about masks, this is about choice and freedom. In expanding your perspective, what words come up, what do you want to experience and feel? How are you going to show up in a way that allows you to feel peaceful, be able to take care of yourself and other people right now, and trust that you’re going to be okay in the future? What would you say to yourself?

Cathy: Well, based on some of what you just shared, I guess it could be that in the future I can choose to wear a mask.

Doctor Neha: Exactly. I choose to do this for as long as I see that it will help. Your “I am” statement would be, “I am free and able to choose.” So when you recognize that fear arising, and you feel frustrated about wearing a mask, just remind yourself—you are free and able to choose. Right now you will choose to wear it, but there may be a time that you choose not to. Sometimes you may feel like you are trapped, like a caged animal. Sometimes it may feel like there’s no way out, and that may lead you to doing things that are not in your best interest—which may cause problems later.

I’m going to give you one other quick tool that helps me make better decisions. It’s called “Choice Point.” It goes like this. Every day, every single one of us has choices to make.

  • Do I get out of bed, or do I not?
  • Do I brush my teeth, or do I not?
  • Do I take a shower or do I not?

It’s that simple. We are constantly making choices.

What’s really important for us to learn right now is that while people can view the world as black and white, there are timing changes that alter things. I’ll explain an example of this. Am I taking a short-term “high,” which means I avoid any discomfort right now? But if I do, the current issue will end up spreading further. The other option is to take some short-term discomfort to grow myself and end up at a long-term high—for your case, a future world without masks. We have to make a choice.

The current situation isn’t easy for anyone. I can’t stand not being able to breathe fresh air. That’s why I’m outside right now. But I also know that me not wearing a mask and breathing fresh air in a room of people is going to prolong this dilemma. And I don’t want it prolonged, so I’m willing to do what I need to do and wear a mask. For each person, this looks different.

Remember that when you make decisions—make integrated decisions. You have to think not just about yourself (ME), but it’s important to also take into consideration others (WE) and the broader WORLD.

So if you looked at this across the timeline of NOW -> SHORT TERM -> LONG TERM, you would see:


  • ME -> Wearing a Mask
  • WE -> I protect myself and others
  • WORLD -> No difference


  • ME -> Still Wearing a Mask
  • WE -> Able to gather in larger groups (some freedoms / choice returning)
  • WORLD -> COVD-19 #’s dropping

LONG TERM (after Coronavirus):

  • ME -> No mask
  • WE -> No mask, except for those that choose to wear them prophylactically
  • WORLD -> No more Coronavirus / and if future virus arises, we know exactly how to collectively beat it!!

Often, people make decisions on single vision and on short-term thinking (not thinking through long-term implications). When your perspective is through the lens of single vision, you are only thinking about one aspect—yourself (ME), others (WE), or globally (WORLD)—without considering long-term or short-term effects. What I’m hoping to do is have us expand our vision, so that we can serve everybody. But you’re exactly right, if I thought that wearing a mask wouldn’t change anything in the end, I’d be pretty hard pressed to keep doing it right now.

The REAL question becomes: how do we do it now so that we start to see results in the short-term, and in the long-term we maintain our freedom and choice?

I want to tell you how much I respect your question, and how much I resonate with it. I think that if we come together, maybe one of the life lessons we’re learning is how interconnected we are, how much we need each other, and how much our independent actions affect each other.

This is an opportunity for all of us to elevate in consciousness, connection, and communication. I’m going to open it up to the floor. Was this helpful?

Cathy: That was very helpful. Part of the struggle for me comes from the communities that are making this a mandate because it takes away your choice. When it’s not a choice, it’s frustrating.

Doctor Neha: To me, the mandates depend on what arena we’re in. In the hospital, we could not walk into an operating room without gloves, a gown, and a mask. If we did not, we would be violating an OSHA regulation. If we did not follow those rules, we would’ve been fined, and lost our licenses. This is because there’s an unconscious patient that could become infected with our diseases or germs if we did not wear proper PPE.

Public health is a different game. There are people who don’t want to follow those rules, but their hospital will say, “Fine, but you cannot practice like that here.” You cannot practice medicine like that in this country, because we know that this is a high-risk situation where people can die.

What I’m hearing from you is that choice and freedom are some of your highest values. What do we do when we are in community, and it becomes a public health issue? Your choices no longer affect just yourself, now they affect the whole community. In a public health scenario, it is imperative to move from a “ME” view to a “WE” and “WORLD” view. That’s why leaders have to make difficult choices right now that some people don’t like.

Here’s how I incorporate the ME, WE, and WORLD. I have rules regarding who I allow to come to my house and about physical distancing. I always tell them, “Hey, I’d really love to see you. I’m going to keep physical distancing, and I’ll meet you on the back patio.” I may or may not be wearing a mask depending on what the situation is.

As a leader, when there is trust between the two parties involved I can be honest with them and say things like, “I’d really like us all to wear masks because if we do, we can get through this together. We can do this for our health, restart our economy, and achieve other benefits. But it’s going to take at least two or three months for this to work. If any new information arises, I will let you know. Let’s assess the progress we’ve made in two months’ time.”

This is what I did with every single patient I met. I can’t say that they were going to be cured from their disease, but I can assure them that if they trust me and do what I say, they can take the next step in their care. And then at the end of that, we can come together and reassess the situation again.

Public health is a very different issue than personal choice and freedom. If you’re a patient in my office, you get to make all those decisions. If I offer you the best treatment possible and you say, “I’m not interested in any of it. I don’t want to go through that,” I will be completely fine with that. I would say to you, “Trust yourself. I’m going to give you all the options. I’m going to give you all my expertise. But this decision is yours. My job then becomes to walk beside you to whatever path you choose to take with the same amount of energy, love, care and compassion. That’s my job as the doctor. Public Health is a different game. It moves to a different level where we have to make collective choices for the good of WE + WORLD.

Prioritizing Your Values

Now is a good time to think about what you value. What are your highest values and how would you order them? Do we choose health over money? Do we choose education over health? Do we choose freedom over health? Now is an opportunity for us to get clear and have discussions that are difficult to bring up. We are in a global timeout right now, and it’s the perfect time to rethink how we are living our lives and what we value most. Thank you for your question and for your bravery.

Taking a nice deep breath in, just notice if you feel more or less energy from dedicating the last two hours to dedicating yourself to authentic connection online, to taking a risk, to doing something different than you’ve been doing. And if so, is there anybody else you might want to invite to this discussion to join us that you think would be a good fit? If that’s true, feel free to bring a friend!

We’re creating our new world. How do you want this new world to be? Please come and co-create it with us.

Responses from the Group

Nidhi: I realized that I have gotten used to being isolated. About 10 years ago I had a pretty major divorce and then moved back to India, and I’m now realizing that being isolated has become a second nature to me for well over a decade. This last year I was working on getting back into the world. I moved back to the Bay Area with my older parents and child, and everything’s been thrown out of control due to the Coronavirus. It took us a good 6 months to settle in, and I’ve been trying to figure out my own financial and social situation. I realized that due to the virus I started using the survival skills that I had learned through many years of isolation.

I want to share something I think is very important. I think that our society has become so split and polarized politically. I was very touched by what Cathy shared. I wanted to share that I usually have a knee jerk reaction when I see somebody without a mask, I think, “Wow, they don’t care.” But I just had a profound realization from her share, that I don’t have to view those people as mean people and deposit this view on them that has to do with my perceived and polarized view of what’s happening. I can understand that they’re having a personal struggle about wearing a mask. It reminds me of when I ask my young daughter to wear a mask when we go out, and she doesn’t want to wear a mask but she still does and she makes the effort. But, I know that even though she does it, it’s still difficult for her to do. Another example is when I was filling gas in my car and I was being careful (wearing gloves and a mask), and there was a man behind me in a big truck. He had to wait for me to finish, and I saw that he was not wearing a mask. Immediately, I thought, “This man hates me. I bet he’s a Trump supporter and that he’s angry.”

I now know that I don’t have to live with that polarized view; he could’ve just been a normal who’s just going about his day but forgot his mask at home. I realized that I can have more compassion, and not immediately jump to conclusions about people. There’s such a division in society which affects how we view other people, and this conversation helped me soften my views.

Alise: Oh my gosh, Nidhi that was so beautiful. I want to acknowledge what you just did so beautifully. You just showed us one of the reasons that we came together—to help elevate and expand consciousness and connection. I really appreciate what you shared and I’m glad that you benefited from this conversation. Thank you!

Jane: Thank you. That was so helpful for me to hear that. I do the same thing sometimes. I make a whole list of judgments beyond that. It just seems so simple when you say it like that, Nidhi. I don’t have to jump to conclusions.

Alise: That is learning and growth at its finest. It’s so beautiful. I also want to touch on your point about divorce. Divorce is not a fun thing. I went through it four years ago. It is painful, it’s excruciating, and you have to reinvent yourself. I do not believe I would now be living my purpose if I was still married to my ex-husband. I had put myself in my own little, tiny box and stopped myself from doing things that I could have done. I also really recognize that there is a real need to just shut ourselves away from the world as we deal with things, and I really appreciate that you came here today and joined us for this conversation and contributed so beautifully. Thank you for that.

Thank you, everybody!

Main Points:

The function of masks and physical distancing is to interrupt transmission of the virus today, so we can stop the spread and someday in the near future not have to wear masks.

If you have a fear of masks, ask yourself:

  1. What is fueling your fear?
  2. What does wearing a mask remind you of?
  3. When have you experienced something similar before?

It’s possible that your fear of wearing a mask may not have anything to do with the biological purpose of wearing masks. Like Cathy, taking this preventative action may be triggering other fears underneath such as fear of losing control or freedom.

Once you identify what you value, prioritize those values.

  • Do you value freedom over health?
  • Do you value safety over freedom?
  • Do you value choice above all?

Know the difference between choices around individual health versus public health:

Personal health -> You and your doctor discuss & make decisions that are best for you.

Public health -> At times, you may need to make choices that protect the community around you, even if those choices are not what you would choose for yourself.

Awareness Prescription
Back From the Future Tool

  1. Get Present in Your Body

  2. Name that Fear

    1. What if…

    2. What I’m most afraid of is…

  3. Expand Your Perspective

    1. Right here, right now, what I know for sure is…

  4. Reprogram Your Thinking

    1. Create an “I am” affirmation to interrupt the old thinking pattern

  5. Ask Yourself: What would courage & self-trust do now?

  6. Go to www.doctorneha.com/anxiety to download your free handout and see a live client video working through anxiety


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