There is pretty much nothing worse than being in the middle of a fight with your partner and they suggest that you just calm down and take a deep breath. When my husband says this to me, it makes me want to throw heavy things at him, and maybe hold my breath to show him. But it turns out that he might actually have a point. At least about the breathing part.
Taking a deep breath can actually change your brain. New research suggests that breathing slower or faster on purpose (which is known as volitional breathing) changes the brain to help improve focus. Which might be good during times of stress, like while arguing with your significant other about how you don’t need someone bossing you around in the kitchen. I can make a grilled cheese sandwich all by myself without someone bossing me around thankyouverymuch.
Okay. Take a deep breath.
Humans are the only species that volitionally regulates their breathing, and scientists aren’t really sure why. This recent study, led by neuroscientists Dr. Jose Herrero and Dr. Ashesh Mehta (a neurosurgeon at NorthShore University Hospital in Long Island) used study participants who already had electrodes inserted in their brains in order to determine the causes for their seizure disorders. This is the first time that breathing was studied on awake, alert individuals with actual electrodes on their brains. The doctors put the participants through a series of tests, studying them first breathing naturally, and then had them either concentrate on their breathing during specific tasks or not.
They found that when the participants concentrated on their breathing, different parts of their brain were activated, providing actual neural proof that breathing can alter which part of your brain you are using.
This all makes sense. I can remember being particularly frustrated with my children just this past weekend while making cookies. We were having a great time until they started arguing about who got to measure in the butter and who got to stir in the sugar and who got to turn on the mixer. Every. Little. Detail. The whole thing became an opportunity for them to holler at each other.
I didn’t want to break the magical spell we’d had going just moments before by freaking out and telling them everything on my mind about their behavior. So instead I took a deep breath. And told everyone else to breathe. And a miracle happened. They breathed, and for the tiniest of moments I could hear myself think. I mean, the peace only lasted for about three and a half minutes, but it was a blissful three and a half minutes.
Breathing can change how our brains work. How we process information. And maybe make us nicer humans.
So, the next time you find yourself in a fight with your partner over one of the ridiculous things couples argue about –paper towels, covers, dinner, placing dirty socks at the edge of the couch EVERY SINGLE NIGHT — maybe you can remember to breathe to improve your focus so you can win the argument.
Just a thought.