Go Ahead And Sigh, New Research Says

For a long time, sighs were associated with feelings of sadness, frustration, or despair. However, a recent study suggests that instead of viewing sighs negatively, we should recognize them for their stress-relieving benefits.

Breathing is a fundamental activity that we often take for granted, but researchers are interested in how we can optimize it to improve our health. A recent study published in Cell Reports Medicine investigated the effectiveness of different deep breathing techniques compared to mindfulness meditation in reducing stress.

The study sorted 114 participants into four groups and asked them to practice mindfulness meditation or one of three breathing exercises (box breathing, cyclic hyperventilation, or cyclic sighing) for five minutes each day over 28 days. Box breathing involves breathing in, holding, breathing out, and pausing equally to the count of four. Cyclic hyperventilation requires taking deep breaths in and quick breaths out, with inhalation lasting longer than exhalation. Cyclic sighing involves breathing in through the nose until the lungs are halfway full, pausing briefly, taking another breath to fill the lungs completely, and then slowly exhaling out the mouth.

After each session, researchers assessed the participants’ mood, anxiety levels, sleep behavior, respiratory rate, and heart rate variability. They found that all forms of breathing and meditation increased positive mood and reduced anxiety levels. Breathing techniques were found to be more effective than meditation, with cyclic sighing being the most effective of the three breathing exercises.

Breathing exercises such as cyclic sighing activate the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for controlling how the body rests and digests. In contrast, sharp inhales of breath activate the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for preparing the body to fight or flee.

In conclusion, while sighs were once viewed negatively, research now suggests that they can be beneficial for stress relief. Breathing exercises, especially cyclic sighing, can be a useful tool for reducing anxiety and promoting positive mood.