Mask Wearing and Breathing

A client recently asked:

"I’m wondering if you could give any advice around mask wearing and good breathing?

My response to her was as follows:

On a positive front, masks can potentially improve your mental state by lifting the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels that you’re inhaling which then results in the release of more oxygen (O2). 

The challenge is that when your baseline (normal) breathing is dysfunctional, your tolerance for CO2 will likely be low, which means your brain and body will not be used to the higher levels of CO2 which you will be inhaling as a result of wearing a mask.

In fact, the respiratory center in your brain may think that you are starving for air and you may feel a rise in anxiety or even panic. Usually the consequence is hyperventilation or over-breathing which makes things worse. Unfortunately as a result of the Bohr Effect, 1 & 2 the bioavailability of O2 is reduced when breathing faster and bigger volumes of air than we need.

The only way to properly combat this is to retrain your breathing – start getting used to more CO2     – unfortunately there isn’t a quick fix.

However Some Tips which May Help:

  • Mask ‘immunotherapy’
    Start wearing your mask at home for short intervals – a little like’ oral immunotherapy’ only with a mask 😷 – at first for 5 and 10 minutes when at rest – say when watching TV, and if this works then try do wear the mask when you’re cooking or gardening or being a little active around the house. 
  • Slow the breathing down as best you can and do your best to nose breathe all the way.
  • Focus on breathing into the diaphragm and relax the body.
  • When wearing a mask all day at work, do your best to quieten your breathing and if you start to feel anxious, breathe as slowly as you are able and focus on the exhale. 
  • Make sure your mask is not too tight around your nose albeit covering it so that you can do your best to nose breathe rather than mouth breathe. This will mean that you are releasing less
    CO2 into your mask with each exhale than if you are mouth breathing; and as a result the        respiratory center of the brain will be less likely to, or be slower to be triggered through poor  tolerance.


Is Your CO2 tolerance low?


  1. Physiology, Bohr Effect: Andrew Benner; Aakash K. Patel; Karampal Singh; Anterpreet Dua. Last Update: August 15, 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526028/  
  2. Bohr Effect: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohr_effect