This article by Glenn Buechlein gets into some pretty heavy stuff - dealing with mental health, anxiety, and depression. If you are feeling these things, know that help is available. If you are feeling desperate, call 800-273-8255.
And you may find yourself
Living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself
In another part of the world
And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?
- The Talking Heads
It all seems so simple. Pay it no mind. Just do it. Just breathe. Breathing is life.
Breathing provides the body with oxygen. This is not complicated. Or is it? I already have enough to worry about. What’s next, do I have to set an alarm to remind my heart to beat?
Let’s start with a bit of the old in and out: the breathing basics. There are two passageways, the nose and the mouth. Healthy people use both. It is normal to breathe through the nose where each nostril works independently yet synergistically with its counterpart. Mouth breathing is useful during stressful exercise or exertion.
We are born obligate nasal breathers and this is clearly what nature intended. Nasal breathing releases nitric oxide helping the lungs absorb oxygen and causing blood vessels to dilate so oxygen is more easily transported. Nitric oxide is anti-fungal, -viral, and -bacterial making it an advantageous ally for immune system support and health. The nose acts as a filter when breathing, providing moisture and warming up the air when in cold conditions.
Mouth breathing, on the other hand, leads to a host of problems starting with the creation of an oral climate that is like a desert: dry mouth. Mouth breathing reduces the amount of saliva in the mouth resulting in an increase in bacteria that normally would be washed away. In this dry environment the PH levels drop increasing the acidity of saliva resulting in more cavities, gingivitis, and upper respiratory problems.
Throughout an average day the typical person takes ten to twelve breaths per minute. Mouth breathers usually double that. The key player in all of this is not who you suspect. When we think of breathing most thoughts center on oxygen, but our lead actor is a character known as carbon dioxide or CO2. Carbon dioxide plays a significant role in the release of oxygen from hemoglobin. It actually triggers breathing and helps to maintain blood PH.
Low carbon dioxide levels lead to over-breathing or hyperventilation. The result is less oxygen being delivered to the body and its tissues as well as to the brain. The result is disrupted sleep. The result is brain fog and fatigue in the afternoon (as a public school administrator, I see this every day). Physically, dark circles may appear under the eyes and an addiction to Chap Stick is common.
All this from moving our air-intake down a couple of inches.
So if we are born nasal breathers what causes mouth breathing?
Well, here’s a short list:
Accidents or injury
Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
The shape of the nose or jaw
Mouth breathing is detrimental to both the physical and mental health of individuals. That makes sense, right? If your body is circulating less oxygen to the tissues and you feel groggy, you’re probably not going to be at your best. And if you do this for a long period of time, it’s probably just going to compound.
There are indicators or warning signs that parents and all adults should look out for in children. Symptoms or red flags may include:
Irritability or hyperactivity
Crying at night
Upper respiratory infections
Dry or cracked lips
Problems concentrating or focusing at school
How could these manifest over time if you don’t address this?
Crowded or crooked teeth
Forward head tilt-poor posture (ear hole in front of the point of the shoulder is my definition)
Poor academic performance
Long narrow faces/facial deformities-uneven ears, narrow nostrils, weak chin
Other health problems
IT ALL MAKES SCENTS
We stopped checking for monsters under our bed when we realized they were inside of us.
I have been a lifelong mouth breather but it only became part of my consciousness the last few years. I will share my personal story by providing a condensed summary of why I believe I mouth breathe and its effects on my life. I will attempt to do this with clarity while simultaneously being as pointed and terse as possible. Abe Lincoln shared what a preacher once said, “I could write shorter sermons, but once I start I get too lazy to stop.”
I was three years old playing at my grandpa’s farm when my sister and I must have spotted a barnyard cat. We gave pursuit and ended up almost drowning in a hog pit for manure storage. Mom credits me with saving my sister’s life. She also shared that this was the start of my bad dreams. I have always downplayed or even poked fun at this event, but it appears to have been quite traumatic for me. Sleeping became an issue- and still is.
Also at around the age of three or four I was run over or rather into by a car. Apparently I was playing with a ball and it rolled over to the neighbor’s. As I lunged for my ball an elderly driver backed up in perfect synchronicity and we collided. The result was a badly bruised face. My mother is unsure of the extent of the damage she just recalls that there was facial damage. My right nostril still functions around 50% of my left.
I started getting sick a lot. I also became a loner according to Mom, spending a great deal of time in my room reading or simply hanging out in the nearby woods by myself. I began complaining that my legs hurt badly. The doctor discovered that my tonsils were enlarged and infected so at the age of six they were removed. I experienced recurring bouts with strep and other respiratory infections to the point where there was concern of rheumatic fever. I was also given medication of some sort for my anxiety, but the doctor warned that things needed to change at home before I could conquer my demons (I will not go into detail but my ACE score is a 5). I remember that I could not sleep. I feared the night. My childhood dreams were smothered by the circumstances and yet my nightmares billowed, stoked by a steady supply of anxiety and fear.
In the 6th grade I nearly collapsed at school and yet was not sent home. I was hospitalized for several days with pneumonia. I do not have fond memories of the breathing treatments. Around this time I began having teeth pulled in preparation for braces. I wore braces for two years and got them off shortly before entering high school. Upon their removal I had to visit a speech therapist because I had a tongue thrust.
Throughout my life I have dealt with sinus problems and allergies. I snore and grind my teeth when I sleep. When I reflect back on school I now realize I had concentration problems. I doodled incessantly all through school including college. Thankfully I was blessed with my mother’s photographic memory. If learning something required rote rehearsal I excelled, but if problem solving or prolonged focus was needed I faltered.
I displayed about every red flag there is for mouth breathing yet no one ever addressed it. The symptoms were treated. There was nary a time in my life when a doctor or dentist ever mentioned mouth breathing. Were people indifferent or dare I say negligent? I hope not. Maybe they did know. Perhaps they simply were trained to respond in a designated manner.
FATHER NOSE BEST
“Everyone is a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anyone.”
- Mark Twain
I briefly shared some of my history that may shed a light on the reasons for my mouth breathing. However, what if it was just genetic or rather epigenetic? I have my father’s nose. My father exhibits almost all of my red flags or indicators. He handles stress the same way as I do and has a tendency to focus way too much on the shit that really does not matter. My father sports a long face, snores like a locomotive, repeatedly suffers from respiratory problems such as bronchitis, had an overbite corrected in middle adulthood by braces and has dealt with some blood pressure issues. My dad, who I dearly love, chose to deal and cope with his stress and anxiety in a negative way which only led to more stress for our family.
So how has mouth breathing affected me both physically and emotionally? I will say my issues may not be solely attributed to mouth breathing, but all I deal with has been enhanced or exacerbated by it.
I do not sleep well. I generally awaken at 3AM. I do not sleep as soundly as I should, but in recent years I have improved. I mouth breathe when I sleep even though I practice nasal breathing drills. Often, even though I have slept I am fatigued upon waking. Once awake, there is no way I can go back to sleep. I believe this to be a cortisol problem. Adrenaline essentially wakes me up. I have day-time sleepiness. I have relied on coffee my whole life. Drank it as a kid. I use a variety of techniques to help with sleep and some are effective. I am debating taping my mouth shut while I sleep.
My blood pressure throughout my adult life has been an issue at times. For many years my reading hovered around 140/90 yet doctors were generally not concerned. They chalked it up to my lifting and my bodyweight. In recent years as I have learned to breathe correctly my blood pressure is quite normal. At my last health screening it was 117/67. I do use a supplement with Arginine/Citrulline as a nitric oxide booster coupled with breathing drills from Buteyko that result in the natural release of nitric oxide.
I have always battled anxiety and at times depression. Although I do not display it, I am an anxious person. I ruminate and get paralysis from too much analysis. I have OCD tendencies, yet they do not distract from my daily life. People call me a perfectionist. I am never happy with what I do. No amount of praise or accolades brings me peace or contentment.
My way of breathing always had me in fight or flight. I never could seem to relax. I grew up in an environment of unpredictability. My whole life it seems as though disaster was imminent-a threat lurking around every corner. I assumed a worst case scenario for everything. My perception of threats is different. I was able to create a false self to deal with the stress. A mask…perhaps even an identity-Power B. I developed a gift for reading other’s faces. I defend my independence even to this day. I have always lived inside my head and developed the ability to escape both when reading and at play. I have always been creative and not afraid to think outside the box.
I recently wrote an article about my injuries and physical challenges entitled ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER. I am confident that my mouth breathing contributed to my physical issues. That is, if I would have been breathing correctly my chances of accidents and injuries would have been mitigated.
I do hope by sharing my history that others will be helped, namely children. If a youngster exhibits some of the markers please look into how they are breathing. You cannot just put a band-aid on it.