Physiological Sighing: A Simple Technique That Will Help You Relieve Stress Instantly

If you want to alleviate stress, you can go about it in many ways.

You can ensure that you sleep sufficiently, eat well, and move regularly.

And you can use techniques like mindfulness meditation to manage stress more skillfully.

All of those approaches are great long-term solutions. But you can’t use them to alleviate stress in real-time.

So today, I’m going to share a technique to help you do that.

And, just like last week, we’ll leverage the power of your breath.

Physiological Sighing

You have about half a billion tiny sacks in your lungs called alveoli. In these sacks, oxygen enters, and carbon dioxide leaves your bloodstream.

As you go about your day, some of your alveoli will collapse spontaneously. And when they do, the gas exchange in your lungs becomes inefficient.

The oxygen in your blood decreases, and the carbon dioxide increases. So, your body has a built-in mechanism to deal with this issue.

It’s called “physiological sighing”: a breathing pattern consisting of two inhales followed by an extended exhale.

If you’re like most people, you sigh this way about once every five minutes. And when you do, the second inhale in the breathing pattern “pops” your alveoli back open.

That way, your lungs can resume exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide more effectively.

Sigh to Calm Down

So, what does all of this have to do with stress?

Well, stress is one of the reasons that your alveoli collapse. And when they collapse, it creates a downward spiral of even more stress.

As carbon dioxide builds up in your bloodstream, you’ll feel increasingly agitated and jittery.

But you don’t have to wait for your body to sigh to break this spiral.

As you know, your breathing is both under involuntary and voluntary control. So, you can do a physiological sigh whenever you feel the need to.

That way, you can deliberately reopen your alveoli, offload carbon dioxide, and calm your body and mind.

All you have to do is apply this super-quick breathing pattern one to three times (through your nose):

  1. Do a regular inhale.
  2. At the end of the inhale, do another short inhale.
  3. Slowly let all the air out with an extended exhale.

That’s all there is to a physiological sigh. Inhale normally, squeeze in some extra air at the top, then exhale slowly.

It only takes a few seconds, and the effects are immediate.

Try It!

Here’s a helpful stress-buster algorithm:

If I feel stressed, then I will do a physiological sigh.

Give it a try! I’m sure you’ll be happy with the results.


Thank you to Dr. Andrew Huberman for inspiring this article with his podcast episode on Tools For Managing Stress & Anxiety.

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