Masks, Anxiety, and Breathing
For many folks, wearing a mask results in feelings of breathlessness and anxiety. If you are struggling but need to wear a mask, here are some strategies for calming your breath and soothing your anxiety while wearing a mask. These are ALL strategies that I personally used to acclimate to wearing a mask, manage my anxiety, and regulate my breathing.
Often, the breathlessness associated with anxiety is because we are unconsciously holding our breath. Check in with yourself, and make sure you are exhaling fully.
If you feel like you can’t get a full breath in or can’t exhale all the air out, try exhaling while humming, making the FFFF sound, or the SSSS sound.
Use progressive relaxation to keep the muscles involved in breathing relaxes. I start with the muscles along my skull, then near my ears. Next I move to my jaw and tongue. I imagine relaxing my esophagus even though its not a muscle. After that, I think about the muscles surrounding my lungs, in my chest, and in my upper back. Finally, I relax my diaphragm.
Be sure you are breathing from your belly. Put your hand on your belly if that helps. You’ll know you are belly breathing if you see your belly (instead of your chest or shoulders) moving/
Try 4-7-8 Breathing. Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, exhale for a count of 8.
Or try Box Breathing. Count as you inhale, then hold for the same count. Next, exhale for the same count, and hold again for the same count.
If you are able to tolerate wearing a mask for a little bit, but need to wearing it for a long period of time, slowly increase the amount of time you wear the mask until you meet the goal.
Alternatively, you can jump into the full amount of time, but allow time and space for strategies like the ones above. Allow for a break if you need one.
If it’s accessible to you, try different styles of masks to find what’s most comfortable for you.
Practice breathwork through yoga or meditation outside of when you are wearing masks. Practice belly breathing by singing or playing an instrument. Both are skills that generalize to the breathing required by mask-wearing.