Why Eye Contact Is So Important In The Age Of The Mask

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woman wearing mask outside

One of our primary modes of making contact with others is by looking into someone’s face. You see their smile, their frown, their tears, their laugh lines, their wrinkled brow; and they see yours.

This face-to-face contact forms one of the primary bases of your relationships. You then tend to mirror each other, even to the point where the neurological phenomenon of “mirror neurons” affects your behavior and physiology.

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Eye contact is more important than ever in the age of COVID-19.

A mirror neuron is a type of sensory-motor cell in the brain that's activated and fires when you see someone else perform a behavior or action, and then your brain reacts as if you had performed that action yourself.

They allow you to learn through imitation and are the basis for social skills, such as empathy and compassion.

So many of these indicators of how your attempts at connection are landing with your friends, family, and even strangers are through these non-verbal cues and facial expressions.

Social distance shouldn't be social isolation.

In these uncertain times, you've probably heard the advice by now to socially distance, but not to socially isolate. We all need connection with each other, even from a safe distance, and your facial expressions are a primary source of that.

Being able to communicate your thoughts and feelings, both with and without words, is crucial to maintaining your connections.

Your eyes are the windows of your soul.

You're more used to tuning into the larger muscle groups around your mouth to get a sense of what the others are feeling. As poet Pablo Neruda said, “the eyes are the windows of the soul.”

Your eyes actually provide you with clues to your deepest emotions. If the smile you offer with your mouth doesn’t twinkle in your eyes, then the smile is only half-hearted.

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This is good news for masking up.

The good news for mask-wearing is that your eyes can still convey your feelings and form the basis for social interaction.

So when you're wearing your mask, don’t avert your eyes as well — let them shine out as the windows of your soul that they are. Form those heart connections through the power of eye gaze.

One of the primary ways babies form healthy attachments is through the mutual loving eye gaze between caregiver and infant. This is then internalized by the child and helps them feel safer in their world.

You can still look at each other with loving or caring intention, even if your nose and mouth are covered.

You can also keep in better emotional balance in your life when you share intentional eye contact with others. When you gaze with intentionality, think about what you're communicating: "I love you," or, "I see you," or, "Thank you for also wearing your mask to keep both of us safer."

Depending on how much light is available, the pupil of your eye widens or narrows to accommodate the need to let in the light. So, pay attention to sharing the light of connection with your fellow humans via eye contact on this narrow path, and keep in touch with the smile in your eyes!

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Linda Yael Schiller, MSW, LICSW is an international speaker, dreamwork specialist, and body, mind, and spiritual psychotherapist and consultant. For more on healing nightmares for children and adults, as well as understanding and working with all kinds of dreams, look into her new book, “Modern Dreamwork: New Tools for Decoding Your Soul’s Wisdom” or visit her website.