Controlling stress and emotions is one of the hardest challenges for acne patients. It’s not like someone checks with you whether you want to get stressed or whether you want to have a bout of depression with your ice cream. Stress and emotional responses are largely involuntary, and damage control after the fact is often the best you can do, that is, if you remember to do it. Practices like meditation can, over long term, change your habitual reactions, but this takes a lot of time and effort.
Fortunately, a study titled Respiratory feedback in the generation of emotion offers new hope. It showed that different emotions are associated with different breathing patterns. The study found that people breathe differently when they are angry to when they are happy, and that if you match your breathing pattern to the one associated with happiness, you start to feel happier.
I’ve written earlier how your emotions respond to what your body does, for example forcing yourself to smile makes you feel happier. Breathing is another one of these feedback loops between the mind and the body, technically known as peripheral feedback.
Change your breathing, change your emotions
The study was done in two parts. In the first part the participants were asked to generate few specific emotions (joy, anger, fear, and sadness) by changing their breathing patterns and recalling memories that trigger those emotions. Afterwards they were asked to fill a questionnaire that queried attributes of breathing (depth, frequency, regularity, etc).
The breathing pattern associated with each emotion was remarkably consistent across all the participants. Furthermore, these patterns were consistent with the patterns observed in other studies where emotions were elicited with movies. This suggests there’s ‘a signature breathing pattern’ associated with each emotion.
In the second part of the study the researchers wanted to see if changing breathing patterns also changes emotional state. And indeed it does. A second group of participants was asked to modify their breathing patterns based on the findings from the first part of the study. So every participant was asked to do happiness breathing, anger breathing, etc. They were then asked to fill a questionnaire to elicit their emotional state.
The researchers found that each breathing pattern reliably shifted emotions towards the emotion associated with the pattern. So happiness breathing made people happier and anger breathing made them feel angrier.
Signature breathing patterns
Here are the breathing patterns used in the second part, so you can try this at home:
- Joy: “Breathe and exhale slowly and deeply through the nose; your breathing is very regular and your ribcage relaxed.”
- Anger: “Breathe and exhale quickly through the nose; slightly deeper than regular breathing amplitude. Your breathing is slightly irregular with some tremors and your ribcage is very tense.”
- Fear: “Breathe and exhale quickly from the top of your ribcage; with normal amplitude. Your breathing is slightly irregular with some tremors and your ribcage very tense.”
- Sadness: “Breathe and exhale through the nose with a normal amplitude and pace. Your ribcage is slightly tense, and there are some sighs in your expiration.”
I would add to the list the laughter pattern. Breathe in fairly deeply through the nose and exhale through the mouth in small ‘bursts’, like what happens when you laugh (ha, ha, ha, ha…).
Gives you control over your emotions
I’m the first one to admit that breathing alone won’t cause massive shifts in your emotional state. So don’t expect to be flooded with ecstatic joy if you try the ‘joy pattern’. But it starts shifting your emotional state, and this breaks the hold stress or negative emotion may have on you. Most importantly, this should work reliably and consistently and thus give you some measure of control over your emotional state.
If you practice and turn this into a daily habit, I’m sure this could help your skin a lot. Stress is one of the things that can aggravate acne. Stress, depression and anxiety all release a neurotransmitter known as substance P. While there are no human studies on acne, one study showed that injecting substance P into the skin triggered a psoriatic flare – even in people not prone to getting psoriasis. Cell culture studies have also shown that skin cells respond to substance P by producing more sebum.
In conclusion, there is some truth to the time-worn advice to take a deep breath. It turns out that we breathe and do different things with our bodies when we experience different emotions. You can get more control over your emotions by taking advantage of these feedback loops between the mind and the body.
Finally, did you try these techniques? How did they work for you? Do you know any other ways to keep control of your emotions? Please share in the comments below.