In this time of COVID 19 and face mask use many people complain that wearing a mask makes it hard to breathe. It does. By creating a seal around your face the mask creates a small vacuum that opposes your inhalations. The effect is small but can be apparent. Once many people notice this they become uncomfortable and do what most people do during discomfort. They start to breathe more shallowly, and on shorter intervals. In other words, the mask triggers anxious breathing. This is bad, and this post will help you make sure that is not your outcome.
The fact that the face mask restricts your breath a small amount is not inherently bad. In fact, it is good if used properly. Many athletes use breath restricting training masks to strengthen their respiratory system. Your face mask is doing the same thing. You should think of the phenomenon as strength building for your respiratory diaphragm. Having increased resistance against your inhalations requires your thoracic and diaphragmatic muscles to work harder, and this will make them stronger.
Wearing a face mask is similar to nasal breathing. Breathing through the nose is harder, and requires more effort, than breathing through the mouth because the nasal pathway is more narrow. However, studies show that nasal breathing is more healthy than mouth breathing partly because it keeps the breathing muscles strong and it is conducive to slow, deep breaths. Sadly though, when a mouth breather tries to switch to nasal breathing it can be difficult for them and is often uncomfortable. This is similar to the situation we find ourselves in being forced to wear face masks.
The difference between a good experience that helps you better condition your respiratory system, and a negative experience that builds trauma is all in the way that you appraise the situation. When you notice your facemask making it slightly harder to breathe embrace it as a positive thing: think about how your lungs are getting a workout, breathe a little harder, use a little more determination, and try to relax while doing it. Definitely don’t fight against it, let it make you resort to mouth breathing, or let it make you feel like you are suffocating.
Part of responding positively to wearing a mask involves ensuring that you are breathing deep breaths that last for three to seven seconds. If instead you are breathing shallow breaths that last one second or less your body will go into fight or flight, and you will appraise the experience as traumatic. During these trying times, the last thing we need is a mandatory apparatus causing us to hyperventilate, or strain or brace our muscles of respiration. So don’t let your mask contribute to your stress.
For more information, and a helpful video, on proper breathing check out the Program Peace website at:
More information about nasal breathing can be found here:
It is also worth mentioning that having something touching your nose and the area around it can increase the sneering response. The sneer is a raising of the top lip and a display of the canines used in mammals that are threatened or aggressive. The top of your face mask applies pressure to and rubs against the skin and muscles involved in the sneer. This can cause you to unconsciously sneer more than you usually do. Because sneering is a subordination display in humans and monkeys and is also associated with the stress response, sneering more is something that you don’t want to do. If you allow the face mask to cause you to brace your sneer it will become further entrenched and the muscles will become stiff, painful, and leave you looking threatened. Avoid this. While you wear your mask ensure that your face is relaxed, your top lip is relaxed, and you have a “straight upper lip.” More information can be found about the sneer at https://programpeace.com/facial-massage/