It’s 3 pm, and you’re sitting at your desk, looking at the rest of the work you have to do, and you let out the heaviest sigh that anyone has ever heard. Then, you get home, and you see that the sink is piled up with dishes. Again, a loud sigh escapes your mouth. Why is this? Is sighing a habit that we’ve developed over time and can’t seem to break? Or is there more to it than that?
It turns out that there is a science behind sighing. It serves a physical purpose and does more than express discontent. Keep reading to learn how sighing helps our bodies, and then read up on these breathing techniques that are scientifically proven to help reduce stress.
The Psychological Effects of Sighing
It’s no mystery that people often sigh in response to stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions. We also sigh when we feel relief, or kick back after a hard day and finally have a moment to pause. When you sigh, you take a deep breath with a long exhale, which is a form of belly breathing.
Deep breathing, or belly breathing, has been shown to aid in stress management, and it’s hypothesized that sighing is your body’s natural way of regulating stress. It’s suggested that when we sigh, the action serves as a biological reset button, bringing on feelings of relief.
Sighing allows an extra burst of oxygen to enter our lungs, which leads to improved blood flow, feelings of relaxation, and lowered levels of stress. It makes sense that we would sigh both when we’re upset and when we’re about the relax. Sighing is a biological response that calms the fight-or-flight mechanism we are programmed to experience. It is necessary to remain calm.
How to Regulate Stress
While sighing helps to regulate stress once you are already in a heightened state, there are conscious steps that you can take to help your body cope. It’s important to do so, as chronic stress has been linked to heart attacks, and can even be contagious, rubbing off on those around you.
The Physical Effects of Sighing
Additionally, sighing may be more than a psychological reaction and method of self-soothing. Research states that it’s a reflex that keeps us alive. Our lungs are filled with millions of tiny sacs, known as alveoli. These sacs enable oxygen to make its way into the bloodstream and push out the carbon dioxide we don’t need.
Once in a while, some of our alveoli collapse, though it’s nothing to be concerned about. Research shows that our bodies automatically respond and re-inflate theses sacs by sighing. Without the deep breathing mechanism, our lungs would fail to function correctly, and we would enter respiratory distress.
Mostly, sighing keeps us breathing, and a lack of doing so has even been associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It’s controlled by the central nervous system, prompted by neurons in the brain that let our bodies know we need to refill our alveoli.
Next time someone asks you, “why the big sigh?” let them know that sighing may save your life.