At the end of this week, New Jersey residents will no longer be required to wear a mask and stay 6 feet apart when going into retail stores and supermarkets, gyms, concerts and most other venues.

Many people are overjoyed the pandemic seems to be winding down and face coverings won’t be mandatory in most indoor settings starting on Friday. But for some Garden State residents, taking the mask off won’t be easy.

According to Morristown psychologist Steven Tobias, over the past 14 months, as thousands of Garden State residents became ill or were hospitalized or died from COVID, fears about the virus increased and wearing a mask became the new normal.

He said for some people, giving up the mask will be tough.

“The anxiety will persist,” he said. “They’ll not be comfortable not wearing a mask. I think wearing the mask gave people at least a degree of comfort.”

He noted carrying a mask and putting it on in public has become second nature for many New Jerseyans.

“It’s almost like classical conditioning, like Pavlov’s dogs,” said Tobias. “I think what we’re really going to have to do is recondition ourselves.”

Tobias explained that to suddenly accept that it’s OK to not wear a mask inside with other people right next to you will be a big transition for some.

As far as how long it will take to adjust to life without a mask, Tobias said it will depend on how much exposure people will have, how frequently they’ll go out without a mask, and also how much they’re pre-disposed to anxiety.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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