Each month you will receive provocative information on socially relevant topics which are affecting our lives in real time. These topics will cover health, the environment, socially charged issues, emotional challenges and many more.
For this first Blog our Guest writer Jessica Brink is a Nurse, Yogi and Life Explorer.
I am not going to argue the effectiveness of masks against the spread of illness. I’m not going to tell you that it is or isn’t your responsibility to wear a mask to protect others. I’m also not going to tell you to obey or defy recommendations that impact your freedoms!
What I am going to explain is the science of carbon dioxide. I’m also going to give you some tips that will make wearing a mask a little less frightening for you and your kids.
Here’s the short version:
Wearing a mask increases the amount of carbon dioxide inhaled. No medical professional anywhere will argue that point. It may not increase blood levels of CO2 to a lethal level – which is why everyone says wearing a mask is safe. However, exhaled breath contains about 5% carbon dioxide. That amount of CO2, when inhaled for just 15 minutes,(wearing a mask), is PROVEN to cause anxiety and in some cases even panic attacks.
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/494206 Wearing a mask can make us fearful and anxious on physiologic level, not to mention the stress caused by not being able to see someone’s entire facial expression. If we want to reduce the fear and anxiety we are all feeling, and if we want our kids to be more comfortable wearing masks, and if we want to boost our immune systems, we should practice holding our breath while wearing a mask. I explain the science and a few methods in detail below. I hope you all take a few minutes to read it. Learning to breathe deeply and hold our breath comfortably has tremendous health benefits. Let’s practice conscious and intentional mask-wearing. If we do it right, we will be healthier and stronger for it.
First, let me tell you about a very rare genetic disease called Urbach-Wiethe Disease. This disease causes progressive destruction to the amygdala – the area of the brain that registers fear. People with Urbach-Wiethe Disease are known as ‘fearless.’ They’ve been studied endlessly with techniques that would make any person with a normal fear response run shrieking from the room. Up until 1994 nearly everyone in the medical community accepted the fact that the amygdala controls fear.
This was Justin Feinstein had the opportunity to test his theory. Feinstein believed that it wasn’t only the amygdala that controlled fear, but also the level of carbon dioxide in the blood. He tested his theory using multiple people with Urbach-Wiethe disease. As had been done previously, he exposed these people to increasingly scary or tense situations – snakes, spiders, embarrassing moments, threats of physical harm. Nothing…
He could not get a fear response out of any of the test participants. That is until he gave them each a small puff of 35% carbon dioxide. Within seconds test participants had an extreme fear response, so much so that he classified the response as panic. https://www.nature.com/news/researchers-scare-fearless-patients-1.12350
Why is this significant? For two reasons. First, because it proves that the amygdala is NOT the only center that registers fear. Second, because it proves that carbon dioxide given at nonlethal levels induces fear, anxiety, and panic.
Assuming most of us have normally functioning amygdala’s, go ahead and try it for yourself.
Hold your breath.
Within about 45 seconds to one minute you begin to feel a sense of panic. Your heart rate increases and you feel as though you are suffocating. The key word here is FEEL…
You are not suffocating. You are not even being depleted of oxygen. I know this based on my experience as a nurse and also because I have tested it on my family and myself.
These days all hospitals, most doctors, and even some non-medical individuals have a little device called a Pulse Oximeter (pulse ox). When placed on a finger, toe or earlobe it registers the amount of oxygen in your blood. A healthy reading is above 95%. For those with respiratory issues it’s not uncommon to get readings in the high 80s, low 90s.
With a few exceptions, the friends and family I’ve ‘tested’ can hold their breath for somewhere between 40 seconds and a minute and a half. Around the 30/40 second mark most start to feel slight distress. By the time they gasp for breath the feeling of suffocation is real. What isn’t real is the lack of oxygen. Even my Dad who held his breath for nearly two minutes maintained a blood oxygen level (SpO2) at or above 93% for nearly the entire two minutes. No one I tested had his or her SpO2 drop below 88% despite having the intense fear of suffocation.
What is actually causing that fear, anxiety, panic, is the increase in carbon dioxide. When you hold your breath you can’t expel CO2 and levels increase in the blood. While a slightly elevated CO2 level is in no way dangerous, our bodies have become very sensitive to increases. The reason for these increases is a whole different post entirely, but suffice it to say that the majority of us do not breathe like we’re designed to, in a way that optimizes our health and wellbeing.
Free divers, mountain climbers, yogis, some singers and athletes have all learned to optimize breathing and carbon dioxide levels. They have worked hard to adapt their bodies to increasing levels of carbon dioxide. When done consciously this has an added benefit – it enables one to master the stress response. In fact, carbon dioxide therapy has been a proven treatment for anxiety disorders and panic attacks since the 1980’s.
People having panic attacks breathe into paper bags because panic attacks often coincide with over-breathing. A panicked person breathes too fast and takes in too much oxygen which throws off the O2 / CO2 balance. Breathing into a bag helps restore that balance and relieves anxiety. Learning to hold our breath for increasing periods of time in a controlled way stimulates the fight or flight response. When you do this consciously, intentionally, you gain control over an excitable nervous system. It literally resets your nervous system and chemoreceptors in a positive way.
Breathing slowly and deeply even, while wearing a mask can still have many benefits. I admit, although I am a nurse I did not fully understand the mechanics, but now that I do. I wholeheartedly buy into the practice and have made it part of my life. And the proof is in the pudding. Countless studies have shown that breathing effectively treats asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, allergies, anxiety, sleep apnea, ADHD and much more. Read ‘Breath’ by James Nestor to get all the details and instructions.
For now, just breathe! Long, slow, deep breaths through your nose. Make sure you expel all the air when you exhale. For kids – make it a game. See how many times you can count to 10 before having to take a breath. Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 7 and blow out for 8, then don your masks. Do your own research – Google: Buteyko Breathing Techniques, Wim Hof, Breathing Coordination (Carl Stough), mouth taping, Mewing… and feel free to ask me questions. Many happy breaths to you.
Great, free resource for children: https://buteykoclinic.com/buteykochildren/
Jessica Brink, RN, BSN, iRNPA
Nurse Patient Advocate