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This Common "Calming" Technique Could Actually Be Stressing You Out More

Image by Danil Nevsky / Stocksy
August 28, 2022

Try as we might, sometimes there's just no avoiding stress. The good news is, there are plenty of calming techniques you can do when nerves strike, including simply working with your breath. But according to neuroscientist and Stanford professor Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., there's a common misconception about breathing to reduce stress, which he explained on a recent episode of Mayim Bialik's Breakdown podcast.

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Why you should avoid taking one deep breath + what to do instead.

How often have we heard the advice to take a deep breath when we're stressed? It's ubiquitous, and the logic is almost there; we know that steady breathing can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system1 (the opposite of fight-or-flight), so taking one deep breath can get that started, right?

Not exactly. As Huberman explains, "If you are stressed, taking a deep breath is not the best solution. If you just take a deep breath, actually you will increase your heart rate through a process called respiratory sinus arrhythmia."

What he suggests instead is taking a double inhale through the nose, and a long, extended exhale, also through the nose. "[This] is by far the best way, and it's not a hack—this is what you do when you're in a claustrophobic environment, and you do it every one to three minutes during sleep," he notes.

Huberman explains that when you do this technique (which he calls a "physiological sigh"), you naturally activate the neural circuits in the brain and body that shift from sympathetic tone—alertness and stress—to parasympathetic. "And for most people," he adds, "it takes only one so-called physiological sigh [to] completely return to a calm state, and this is, as far as I know, the fastest way to shift yourself from stressed to calm."

Other tips to calm down quick.

Because it never hurts to have a handful of options when stress strikes, some other calming methods to lean on in the moment include moving your body, taking a hot or cold shower, and getting outside for some fresh air. Check out our full guide to quick calming techniques for more ideas.

And if you still need a hand in achieving a sense of calm, you might want to reach for a stress-reducing supplement, such as mindbodygreen's calm+.* The botanical formula includes full-spectrum USDA- and EU-certified organic European hemp oil, lavender oil, and ashwagandha root and leaf extract to support a brighter mood and up your stress resilience.*

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The takeaway.

If you've been taking a deep breath whenever you're stressed to no avail, you might want to try this neuroscientist-approved method instead. Pair it with your other favorite stress-busting techniques for an instant wave of calm.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.