Breath is vital for calming the nervous system – this is a biological fact. The importance of breath is not something we are taught. I have had the opportunity to learn more about the breath and the nervous system through my own personal health journey and in my training as a certified holistic health counselor. Breath has a direct connection to our emotional well-being and our stress response. That is why we often tell individuals to take deep breaths when they are escalated.
Wearing a mask over our nose and mouth affects our ability to take in full deep breaths, which then impacts our ability to self-regulate. Why is this important? As educators we need to be aware of signs that we and our students need to take a mask break. On the first day of PAC’s Extended School Year (ESY) program, I witnessed both staff and students having difficulty with regulation. The signs were sometimes subtle (i.e. increased agitation or sadness). However, it is important for us to monitor the signs so we can prevent possible problems. Here are a list of a few side effects that may occur from wearing a mask:
· Feeling tired/fatigue
· Loss of concentration
· Brain Fog
· Feeling as though you can’t catch your breath
If you feel any of these effects simply taking a mask break for a few minutes to get a few good breaths in can help. If you notice students are dysregulated, the first response should be to get them to a place they can safely take off their mask and breathe openly for a few minutes.
Moving forward, it would be good practice to build in times during the day for students to go outside to breathe in fresh air. In addition, I found the cloth masks are harder to breathe in than the disposable masks. If you are noticing cloth masks are difficult for students, offer them to switch to the lighter disposable masks. I did this for a few students and it helped.
As we continue on this journey together we will need to adjust our thinking to match what is before us. I learned a lot in the first week of our in-person Summer Program. It is difficult to communicate with staff subtly because so much of the way we communicated in the past was through soft talk or facial expressions. It is hard to read student’s feelings and to gauge their emotions without being able to see their full face. I have a little glimpse into what it must be like to not understand the nuances of social interactions, which a lot of our students struggle with on a daily basis. In some ways this will be a good opportunity for us to take our student’s perspective and to model how difficult it is to communicate without clear social feedback.
Additionally, this is a good time to help students make connections between the way they physically feel and how this relates to their reactions and emotions. One of the best ways we can make this connection is by modeling how we are feeling. For example you might say, “Wow, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, I am going to take a quick mask break and get some fresh air”. Teaching students the importance of checking in with themselves physically and making adjustments is a much needed skill-now we have the chance to teach it.
Take good care,
Joanna Silverman, M.Ed, CHHC
Joanna Silverman, M.Ed, CHHC has worked at Pilgrim Area Collaborative for 11 years. She grew up in Plymouth, MA and holds a Masters in Education from Wheelock College.