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Feel Like You’re in Danger? Take a Deep Breath in

By: Maaheem "Mak" Akhtar

woman in red wind breaker jacket looking up hair blowing

Wait, what? You want me to stop to take a breath before running for my life? Yup, you heard that right. Researchers at Northwestern Medicine have recently discovered that rhythmic breathing enhances emotional judgments and memory recall in the human brain.

When participants were shown “fearful” faces, they reacted faster and recognized them better later- when breathing in through their noses. The same didn’t apply while inhaling through the mouth. Nor did it work the same way for “surprised” faces. So it seems to be fear related alone. Future research on fear vs other emotions will help determine that more clearly.

So if you find yourself in a dangerous situation, breathing in through your nose will help you think and respond faster. Beyond the effects of adrenaline, it may be why humans breathe faster when the fight or flight (read: panic) response is activated. It may also explain why we gasp in horror.

How You Breathe Affects Memory and Fear – Video of Study

Modern-day stress doesn’t usually involve dangerous situations, which is good. So then why are these findings important? Well, worrying about traffic or being unable to pay bills elicits the same response in our bodies. To that effect, nasal inhaling may help when your body is experiencing a freak-out. Like the next big board meeting you need to present in. Or confronting a difficult family member during the holidays.

Test it out and see for yourself. Let us know if it works. It may just prove to be a handy stress-busting life hack.

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