Stress Myths—Debunked!

Alicia Meuret, associate professor of psychology at SMU, talks about controlling stress with breathing.

By Corrie Pikul

The Myth:

"Taking deep, slow breaths can help you calm down when you're feeling panicked and overwhelmed."

The Truth:

It makes sense that when you're short of breath, you should try to compensate with a little extra oxygen, right? The problem is that when you are experiencing an intensely trying situation—waiting to hear the results of a serious medical test, during severe turbulence on an airplane, or when you slice your thumb with a bread knife just as your brunch guests pull into the driveway—you're probably already taking in too much oxygen and could be at risk of hyperventilating, says Alicia Esperanza Meuret, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. In her research on patients who suffer from panic disorders and asthma, Meuret has found that a more effective way to calm down is to take shallow, regular and slow breaths through the nose (not the mouth, which makes it too easy to suck more air than you actually need). "Imagine a beach where the water is sliding in and out in time with your breath," she says. This may feel slightly uncomfortable at first, as you battle the impulse to fill your lungs, but Meuret says you should start to feel more relaxed after practicing a few times.

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