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Feeling Stressed? Take a Few Physiological Sighs

Updated: 6 days ago

Stress Relief with Physiological Sighs

If you’re feeling stressed, you can immediately bring your stress level down by taking a few physiological sighs. The physiological sigh is a deep, double-inhale through the nose, which is a long inhale until your lungs are almost at capacity followed by a second short inhale until completely full. Then, a long, slow exhale through the mouth. See links below for a video demonstration.

There are two primary reasons for why this works:

  1. When you're stressed, your brain sends a message through the phrenic nerve to your diaphragm telling it to elevate your respiration rate, which makes breathing shallow. But the phrenic nerve has both efferent and afferent neurons, which means it’s a two-way street. When you breathe deeply into the abdomen, you’re telling your brain “everything's cool, just chill out.”

  2. The physiological sigh mimics the sigh reflex, which is something that you do naturally as the alveoli (Figure 1), which are little sacks of air in the lungs where gas exchange occurs, collapse, which causes the blood carbon dioxide to oxygen ratio to go up. This process accelerates exponentially when you’re stressed. The 2nd short inhale of the physiological sigh reinflates the alveoli, which restores normal gas exchange, which also tells your brain to chill.

Figure 1. Pulmonary alveoli.

From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, your physical and mental states are a manifestation of the balance between Yin and Yang. In some ways, this can be thought of as the sympathetic nervous system (Yang) vs the parasympathetic nervous system (Yin) - fight or flight vs rest and digest.

When you're feeling stressed or anxious, your sympathetic nervous system is activated, elevating your heartrate, breath rate, and body temperature. In other words, the balance between Yin and Yang is shifted toward Yang.

By taking just 3 physiological sighs, you're able to downregulate the sympathetic nervous system and restore balance between Yin and Yang, putting you in a calmer state.

Video Demonstration of the Physiological Sigh:



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