Both animal and human research have revealed important associations between sighs and relief. Previously we argued to conceive of sighs as resetters which temporarily induce relief. The present study aimed to investigate the psychological and physiological relief effect of sighs by instructed deep breaths and spontaneous sighs compared to a control breathing maneuver. Participants completed three blocks of 40 trials during which uncertainty cues were followed by either safety cues followed by a positive picture, or danger cues followed by a negative picture. One block was presented without breathing instructions, two subsequent blocks with breathing instructions. During the presentation of the safety and danger cues, an instruction was given to either ‘take a deep breath’ or ‘postpone the next inhalation for 2 s (breath hold). Continuously, participants rated relief and Frontalis electromyography was recorded. Trait anxiety sensitivity was assessed by the Anxiety Sensitivity Index. Self-reported relief and physiological tension were compared 5 s before and after instructed deep breaths and breath holds, and before and after spontaneous deep breaths and breath holds in the respective blocks. Results show that self-reported relief following an instructed deep breath was higher than before. Physiological tension decreased following a spontaneous sigh in high anxiety sensitive persons and following a spontaneous breath hold in low anxiety sensitive persons. These results are the first to show that a deep breath relieves and, in anxiety sensitive persons, reduces physiological tension. These findings support the hypothesis that sighs are psychological and physiological resetters.
- Breath hold