The Science Behind Your Sigh of Relief

What research reveals about sighing and how you can harness your breath to feel good anytime

Emily PG Erickson
Elemental
Published in
3 min readNov 9, 2020

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Photo: Justin Paget/Getty Images

If you breathed a sigh of relief when you saw the Associated Press call the presidential race for Joe Biden on November 7, 2020, you weren’t alone. Sighs of relief were heard around the world. The New York Times reported that “Biden Victory Brings Sighs of Relief Overseas,” while The Guardian published an op-ed entitled “Catastrophe has been averted. Let us all breathe a big, long sigh of relief.”

So, what exactly is a sigh of relief?

Augmented breaths, or sighs, are a neurobiological phenomenon with physiological, psychological, and pathological implications. In simple terms, sighs consist of a normal breath followed by a second breath before your exhale.

Sighs are far more common than you might think. In fact, people sigh an average of 12 times per hour. Sighing may be so habitual because of the important role it plays in the human body. A 2014 study in Progress in Brain Research

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Emily PG Erickson
Elemental

Former mental health researcher sharing insights about psychology and parenting. www.emilypgerickson.com