Wearing a mask may be essential and mandatory, however that does not negate the fact that it also causes stress and anxiety for many. Some feel claustrophobic, others feel suffocated, some just feel uncomfortable, and even if you are not bothered by the mask, there is no escaping the fact that face masks make breathing more difficult and can reduce your oxygen intake.1 In fact, Stanford researchers estimate that oxygen reduction while wearing an N95 mask may be anywhere from 5 to 20 percent.2, 3 A reduction of oxygen is problematic because it can cause fatigue, dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches, and compromise overall wellbeing. 4, 5, 6
Our intention in writing this article is not to discourage the use of face masks or create a debate around them, but to provide you with simple breath practices to self-regulate after wearing a mask and to reduce any stress and anxiety that it may cause. The 6 practices provided in this article will also help to increase your oxygen intake, boost your immune system and enhance your overall wellbeing.
Warning: Unmanaged Stress From Wearing a Mask Can Make You Sick
Did you know that prolonged stress not only accelerates aging and increases your risk for nearly every chronic disease, but also hinders the immune response, increases your risk of respiratory infections and can even activate latent viruses in the body?7, 8 Making matters worse is the fact that corticosteroids are released when under stress, which suppress the effectiveness of the immune system further.9 Because the effects are so systemic, if you experience stress or anxiety from wearing a mask, it is crucial that you don’t just brush it under the rug and ‘soldier on.’ The breath is free and always with you and it is your most powerful ally against stress and anxiety.
How Breath Practices Can Ward Off Stress and Boost Immunity
There are two branches of the autonomic nervous system – the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ branch that is activated in times of stress, and the parasympathetic ‘rest, digest, heal, and repair’ branch, which is where we should be operating from most of the time. Unfortunately we live in a high stress society and this causes many of us to get stuck in sympathetic nervous system activation, and puts our bodies in a constant fight or flight mode.
Because our bodies think we are in danger when we are stressed, our non essential functions shut down, our breathing becomes shallow and our immune systems ability to fight off viruses and other pathogenic microbes becomes compromised.10 Bringing your attention to the breath sends signals to the nervous system that the danger has passed and it’s okay to relax, and switches you back into parasympathetic ‘rest and repair’ mode.
3 Simple Breath-Based Techniques to Reduce Stress While Wearing a Mask
- Simply Sigh
Whenever you feel tension, stress, or anxiety creeping in while wearing a mask, try taking a deep sigh. Sighing functions as a physiological resetter, it forces you to take a deep breath and become present in the moment, and it reminds your body and mind that you’re safe.11
- Hum Yourself Calm
This is a great one if you are not in close proximity with others but still need to keep your mask on. Humming is a self-soothing strategy that uses the vibration of your own voice to balance the nervous system, reduce stress and blood pressure and calm physical sensations. You can just hum freely, or try the Humminbird Breath which goes like this – take a long inhalation through the nose, hold your breath for 5-10 seconds, then exhale slowly with lips closed, making a humming sound until lungs are completely empty.
- Practice the Transformer Breath
This breath practice was developed by AoB founder Anthony Abbagagno to help specifically with the management of stress and anxiety. It’s based on science which shows both deep breathing and extending the exhale act as instant breaks on the stress response, and rapidly shift you into parasympathetic mode.
To do the Transformer Breath simply deepen your breath and count to 4 on your inhale and 8 on your exhale. Repeat, only this time your inhale will remain 4 seconds long but your exhale will be 9 seconds. Repeat, continually extending the exhale by 1 second per cycle, up to whatever number feels comfortable, for 3-4 minutes, or for however long you have available to do this (even just two cycles can make a noticeable difference in stress and anxiety levels).
3 At Home Breath Practices for Self-regulation and Enhanced Wellbeing
- The Coherence Breath
This breath was developed by The Heartmath Institute, it is a super simple breath practice yet the effects are powerful. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and helps to support immunity and promote relaxation and wellbeing. After a week or two of practicing this, you will notice your stress and anxiety levels are notably lower and wearing a mask may be less triggering for you.
Inhale deeply and slowly for 5 seconds and exhale for 5 seconds continuously for 5 minutes through the nose. Try this 3 times a day – upon waking, last thing before sleeping, and when you arrive home from work (before eating).
- The Stretch Breath
This breath activates your entire lungs and aerates them, bringing in more oxygen and promoting healing. It detoxifies your system by loosening toxins that normally lie idle in the lungs, which are then released with the exhalation. Over time, this practice increases breathing capacity, which means more oxygen for your entire body even when not practicing the breath.
Standing, sitting, or lying down, take as big an inhalation as you possibly can; hold it for 5-10 seconds. Without exhaling, notice your lungs stretching; then see how much more you can take in. Hold again for as long as is comfortable, then release without hesitation. You can repeat this cycle 3-4 times, and notice any difference in the way you feel. You can also work towards 2 top-up inhalations after a few days.
- The 4-7-8 Breath
The 4-7-8 breath was developed by Dr. Weil, founder and director of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. This breath is considered a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system and is used to combat anxiety and anger responses. It produces a deeply relaxed state and can be practiced upon arriving home or before bed to help induce sleep.
Sit with your back straight, let your lips part and make a whooshing sound while exhaling completely. Then breathe in quietly through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for a count of 7, and exhale forcefully through your mouth for 8 seconds, the whole time pursing the lips and making a “whoosh” sound. Repeat the whole cycle up to 4 times.
We hope these breath practices will be of great use to you 🙂
PS If you suffer with anxiety that goes beyond just wearing a mask, then you will benefit greatly from our 10-day Transformers: Transforming Anxiety Course.
This video-based course helps you understand anxiety and teaches you how to target all the underlying causes of it. You will gain simple yet powerful self-inquiry, mind-body, and breath-based tools to transform the energy of anxiety into something positive and productive. You will also learn levels 2 and 3 of The Transformer Breath, plus you will be led through a full conscious, connected Breathwork session. You can keep the Breathwork recording and listen to it as often as you like to increase embodiment, calm the stress response, and dramatically enhance overall wellbeing.
? For more information on the Transformers: Transforming Anxiety Course – https://alchemyofbreath.com/anxiety/