Mighty Blog

Breathing tips and mindfulness while wearing a mask

Wearing a mask is an essential part of our day. We know that it’s not exactly comfortable, but it is extremely important when it comes to slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Julie Christiansen, physical therapy assistant at Children’s Minnesota, provides you with tips to making mask-wearing as comfortable and effective as possible.

Be mindful

Feel how you breathe

While wearing a mask, take a moment to feel how you breathe. Ask yourself these questions: Does your belly move or does your upper chest move? Are you breathing with your nose or mouth?

Place your hands on your stomach or lower rib cage, slowly take a breath through your nose and feel your belly and rib cage push outward and exhale though your mouth.

Practice this throughout the day and with practice you may start to become a more efficient breather with a mask on. You are actively retraining your breathing muscles.


Children's Minnesota employee wearing a mask

Take time to relax your upper chest and shoulders. Helpful actions include: shoulder shrugs, arm circles, arm stretches, torso twists and side-to-side bending, if your body allows these movement comfortably without pain.

Tips for mask-wearing

The fit of the mask

  • An ideal mask should be two layers of fabric, but three layers adds even more protection.
  • The mask should have no gaps on the sides and fit snugly around the nose and chin. You can purchase nose wire strips to add to your mask to help it fit more securely.
  • Make sure to test your mask. Adjust your mask and take a deep breath in through your mouth. If your mask suctions inward and then expands when you exhale, you’ve got a relatively good fit.
Little kid outside in the snow with a mask

Wearing a mask in the cold

We all know in Minnesota it gets really cold in the winter. Sometimes, that can cause issues for mask-wearing. When you breathe through a mask outdoors in the cold, you develop moisture on the inside of the mask that could freeze on the outside. If your mask gets wet, it is no longer fully effective – so you should always have a backup mask or two!

Mask alternatives

While many people have questions about other “types” of masks, we do not recommend them. Things to keep in mind are – winter scarves and/or bandanas were not designed to prevent respiratory droplets from escaping so, they may not be effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Please wear a real mask underneath scarves and bandanas.

Exercising with a mask

While exercising with a mask on, we need to change our perception of what a satisfying breath is.

Nose-breathing vs. mouth-breathing

While wearing a mask during exercise it is important to keep breathing through your nose. Some people have commented that they feel restricted while exercising with a mask on, so they switch to mouth-breathing. Mouth-breathing is not as satisfying as nose-breathing.

Breathing through your nose will also decrease the amount of moisture that accumulates in your mask and it filters the air you breathe.

It takes time to acclimate your breathing

The more you exercise with a mask on, the more you will build the strength to breath though the mask and your body will acclimate to it. It will get better! A proper fitting mask can help your breathing feel more satisfying during your workout.

Tips for adjusting a mask mid-workout

  • Remove your mask to hydrate by only touching the ear loops.
  • Sanitize your hands before and after touching your mask.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth while your mask is off.

Take breathing breaks

In a safe space, take your mask off and take two or three breaths, being sure to use your belly. Wearing a mask often can cause you to breathe different even when your mask is off. Mindfulness of breathing can help you retrain your breathing to be more efficient all the time.

Drink plenty of fluids

The nose is designed to capture moisture and those who breathe through an open mouth can experience moisture loss. When you lose moisture, you become dehydrated which leads to increased fatigue.

Remember this: Moisture loss = dehydration = increased fatigue.

Making face masks more comfortable for kids

If you’re looking for more tips on mask-wearing, see our: How to make face masks more comfortable for kids article. We give you tips for talking to your kids about wearing a mask and five mask hacks!

Three boys play outside with camouflage patterned face masks
Alexandra Rothstein