As a Naturopath and Breathing Coach, every few days during the lockdown, I receive a call, text or email from someone who finds wearing a face mask unbearable. They feel anxious and exhausted and despair at the thought of being forced to wear a mask for the foreseeable future.
Carbon Dioxide Tolerance
What is going on for these people is that their carbon dioxide tolerance is poor. Wearing a face mask causes a temporary build-up of the gas carbon dioxide. It may surprise you to know it is carbon dioxide, not oxygen, that is our main driver to breathe. When carbon dioxide levels increase, you feel air deprived. Training the brain to tolerate slightly higher carbon dioxide levels has many benefits, including switching on the relaxing (parasympathetic) nervous system, improving blood circulation and increasing oxygen delivery to the cells and brain. As well as making wearing a mask more bearable.
Tip 1 The Nose Knows
Only breathe with your nose. Keep your mouth closed unless you are eating, drinking, or speaking. Regardless of whether you are using a mask or not, nose breathing is a must. Nasal breathing increases oxygen delivery throughout the body by as much as 20%. Nose breathing while using the mask will decrease the amount of carbon dioxide you inhale.
Tip 2 Find Your Rhythm
Fast breathing will only increase carbon dioxide buildup. Slow. It. Down. Try counting your in-breath and out-breath. Find your perfect breathing rhythm or cadence. Try 2 seconds in, and 3 seconds out, or 3 seconds in 4 or 5 seconds out. Whatever feels the most comfortable. You’ll soon find your breathing groove.
Tip 3 Befriend Your Mask
If wearing your mask outside in the street or supermarket stresses you out, try getting used to mask-wearing at home. When next you are at rest – watching Netflix, embroidering or solving a complex jigsaw puzzle, put on your mask. Initially wear it for 10 minutes at a time, slowly building up to being comfortable for an hour. Follow the tips above and you will be free of mask anxiety forever.
Is your breathing dysfunctional? Take the breathing quiz.