When I hear someone sigh, my first inclination is to ask, what’s wrong?
90% of the time most people will tell me what’s on their mind.
I’ve done it for years, inside and outside of the clinic.
So I decided to take some time out of my busy to write about it. I can Netflix binge later.
What is sighing, anyways?
Sighing is a natural biological process which bypasses our conscious brain altogether.1 Technically you’re suppose to sigh every five minutes in order to help the lungs “reset” themselves and give your body oxygen. Otherwise, the air sacs in the lungs may collapse. That is not a good thing, btw. Sighing is an involuntary action, meaning you don’t have to do anything to control it, the body does it automatically.
So does that mean that emotional does not play a role in whether we sigh more or less?
According to researchers of Standford and UCLA, the mechanisms connecting emotion and conscious sighing are still not fully known.2 However it is known that emotions and stress can have an effect.
Research has also shown that when people sigh it come from a place of disappointment and frustration.3
Sighing in Traditional Chinese Medicine most commonly falls under what is known as “Liver Qi” Stagnation. It does not refer to problems with the liver anatomically or physiologically, but rather refers to the function of “Liver Qi” in traditional Chinese medicine, which is responsible for circulating the “qi” or energy in the body. Envision it as train that runs without stopping. It can slow down, go in reverse, wind up in knots, but does not stop moving. When we have an emotional problem that causes frustration to build up and no outlet to release, that is when the increase of sighing occurs. So sighing is a symptom of a bigger diagnoses known as “Liver Qi Stagnation”. What are some other symptoms of liver qi stag?
- Indigestion and abdominal distention
- “feeling wound up”
- Cold hands
- Muscle pain
- Chest Stuffiness
(Source: HB Kim, Handbook of oriental medicine 3rd edition)
Does a sigh mean that you have any or all the symptoms listed above? No, but the beauty of Traditional Chinese Medicine is the ability to identify an issue and see what possibilities may lie in the bigger picture. So sighing can be used as a sign to find the root of a bigger problem.
From my experience deep , slow breathing meditation works very well for liver qi stag. Tackling a less demanding schedule can work wonders, and a 20 minute walk can make you feel calmer. Exercises such as tai chi train the body to maintain calmness, and produces a steady calmness throughout the day.
Hope it helps and keep finding your own answers to learn more about your mind and body.
This article is not intended to diagnose and is for educational purposes only. Please see your healthcare provider should you need any help with mental health conditions.
- Macdonald, F. 2016. Sighing Is Actually a Life-Saving Reflex, And Scientists Have Found The Switch That Controls It. Retrieved March 15, 2018 from https://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-discover-that-sighing-is-actually-a-life-saving-biological-function
- Schmidt, E. 2016. UCLA and Stanford researchers pinpoint the origin of signing reflex in the brain. Retrieved March 15, 2018 from http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/ucla-and-stanford-researchers-pinpoint-origin-of-sighing-reflex-in-the-brain
- Gaines, J. 2013. Why Do We Sigh? https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-babble/201304/why-do-we-sigh