Misophonia: How Sound Rage Destroys Relationships and Forces People To Move Home

Woman blocking ears with fingers Photograph: Jamie Grill/Getty Images/Tetra Images RF

Sent into apoplexy by whistling noses? Can’t bear the sound of people eating? You could be one of the many people affected by this potentially debilitating condition. As a teenager, I remember being moved almost to tears by the sound of a family member chewing muesli. A friend eating dumplings once forced me to flee the room.

The noises one former housemate makes when chomping popcorn mean I have declined their invitations to the cinema for nearly 20 years. I am not proud of myself for reacting like this – in fact, I am pretty embarrassed – but my responses feel unavoidable. It is probable that I have misophonia. According to a scientific paper published last year, so do 18% of people in the UK.

Otherwise known as “sound rage”, misophonia is “a decreased tolerance to certain sounds” says Jane Gregory, a clinical psychologist at the University of Oxford who co-authored the paper and counts herself among the 18%. Sound triggers are usually repetitive, she says. It is not about “the volume of the sound or necessarily the acoustic pattern”, but what it means to the observer.

Eating sounds are most commonly reported, closely followed by so-called throat sounds. (Gregory is driven spare by the sound of pigeons.) “Chewing, crunching, snorting, sniffing, throat clearing, nose whistling, heavy breathing,” rattles off Dr Zach Rosenthal, who runs the Centre for Misophonia and Emotion Regulation at Duke university in Durham, North Carolina. “These are all relatively ordinary everyday things that people need to do, but in people with misophonia they are experienced as highly aversive.”

That “aversive reaction” can take the form of physical changes such as increased muscle tension or heart rate, or emotional responses such as irritability, shame and anxiety. It brings on a fight, flight or even a freeze response where, according to Gregory, “you get a really strong adrenaline reaction and it tells you that you’re either in danger or you’re being violated”.

Only about 14% of the UK population are aware of misophonia, according to Gregory’s paper, a collaboration with King’s College London. Perhaps one of the reasons, she suggests, is simply that it is hard to talk about. “You are essentially telling someone: ‘The sound of you eating and breathing – the sounds of you keeping yourself alive – are repulsing me.’ It’s really hard to find a polite way to say that.”

Maybe the movie Tár will help: its protagonist, played by Cate Blanchett, has an extreme reaction to the sound of a metronome. Theories about how misophonia develops are exactly that. “A lot of people say they had always been a little bit sensitive to sound, but then they remember a certain time when it suddenly got a lot worse,” says Gregory. Rosenthal says it typically presents itself in late childhood or early teens and is often associated with family members.

“People ask me all the time: ‘Why my family? Why my parents?’” The explanation feels comfortingly logical: “You’re not blaming, you’re not judging – you were probably just around them the most.” You might have clocked a sibling eating baked beans, say, then once you have noticed it your brain begins to look out for it.

Rosenthal describes the whirlpool: “It starts to be aversive and then I pay more attention to it, and then the more attention I pay to it the more I notice it, and then the more I notice it the more aversive it becomes …”

The impact can be severe. Gregory knows of relationships that have ended over misophonia; she has encountered people who have moved several times to escape triggering neighbours. Others must pick careers based on where they can work without being bothered by sounds. “If you don’t get any respite from it, you can get desperate,” she says.

You get a really strong adrenaline reaction and it tells you that you’re either in danger or you’re being violated…Jane Gregory

Strategies might help, however, such as introducing background noise when eating. Gregory’s husband, who knows better than to eat Monster Munch at home, can tell if she is bothered by a sound, because she will suddenly call out: “Siri, play Taylor Swift!”

Sometimes the best option is to walk away. Gregory suggests then “slowing down your breathing, or just giving your mind a little job to do”, such as playing a game for a minute. By the time you re-enter the room, the sound might be gone, or you might feel better equipped, “because you know what’s coming”.

She also recommends “opposite action – this idea that sometimes the more we avoid something or block it out, the more harmful it feels to us. In CBT [cognitive behavioral therapy], we do the opposite of what you feel like doing.” In this vein, she tries to fight her instinct to glare at her husband, gazing adoringly at him instead: “It’s a way of tripping up your brain and saying: remember that you love this person, remember that you’re not actually in danger.”

I make a note to try this the next time I hear someone eating scrambled eggs.

By:

Source: Misophonia: how ‘sound rage’ destroys relationships and forces people to move home | Life and style | The Guardian

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Related contents:

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How To Use Neuroscience To Improve Your Content Marketing Strategy

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When we think about ways to improve and refine and improve our content marketing strategy, we probably don’t think about the field of neuroscience. But this academic discipline offers many insights into how to market a product or service—so many insights, in fact, that it’s become a field of its own.

We call this field neuromarketing, and it involves take advantage of the wealth of information gleaned from measuring the brain’s electrical fluctuations to drive positive engagement with marketing messages. Most businesses, of course, are not going to hire a neuroscientist to analyze the effectiveness of their content marketing strategies.

At the same time, there is all sorts of feedback, information, and advice we can take from existing neuromarketing research to help us put together more focused, results-driven content marketing plans. Let’s explore five of the most important ways we can use insights from the field of neuromarketing to improve and refine a content marketing strategy:

Use emotions to wake up the brain: Our brains kick into high gear when we’re stimulated by powerful, intense emotions. If a visceral emotion that we feel is a positive experience, our brains wake us up so we can enjoy the pleasure-inducing aspects of the experience; if the visceral emotion we feel is negative, our brains also wake us up—in this case, to actively plot out how to protect and insulate ourselves from the negative experience.

Thus, content that triggers strong emotions (whether positive or negative) plays a key role in activating our brains, which, in turn, makes us more likely to absorb and retain the content that’s in front of us.

Appeal to the brain’s self-serving instincts: Our brains have evolved to be self-serving, to react in ways that keep us alive (i.e., the survival instinct) and to help us feel good about ourselves. Thus, content marketing pieces that stroke the readers’ ego and make them feel validated and at peace with their own emotional, physical, and mental condition is more likely to be well-received.

Feed the brain’s desire for familiarity: The reason that branding is so powerful in the marketing world is because of our brain’s desire to derive consistency and comfort from interactions with the world around us. Indeed, when we recognize familiar patterns, our brains respond by producing the pleasure-inducing neurochemical dopamine. In the world of content marketing, these familiar patterns include the fonts, images, graphics, and color choices we use in content production.

Help the brain to avoid complexity: Obviously we should be doing everything we can to make our content pieces as simple and straightforward for the reader. But did you know that anything that our brains perceive as difficult to process and interpret automatically becomes a more complicated and time-consuming task? That means we must be cognizant of all potential access barriers, including a poor font choice or a complex graphic or a too-big block of text.

Surprise the brain with unexpected word choices: When we’re consuming a piece of content, our brains are wired to process information quickly by essentially predicting and pre-processing the words and sentence constructions we expect to consume. In this way, we’re able to skip and skim through content while still absorbing its central messages and themes. Therefore, in the world of content marketing, we want use unexpected word choices and sentence constructions that stimulate and wake up our brains.

For example, if we read the phrase, “Money doesn’t grow on _____,” our brain is likely to automatically pre-fill in the final word (i.e., “trees”). However, if instead we encounter the words “designer jeans”—as in, “Money doesn’t grow on designer jeans”—our brain suddenly wakes up and our interest is piqued. Thus, as content marketers, we want to learn to play word games and manipulate language (sparingly, of course).

There’s no question our brains are instinctively activated by certain types of stimulation. Our challenge is to harness and channel the right types of stimulation to create more effective marketing content. Fortunately, neuroscience can be an important asset for us, teaching us how to use emotions to wake up our brain, how to appeal to our brain’s innately self-serving interests, how to feed our brain’s desire for familiarity and simplicity, and how to surprise our brain with word games and other unexpected language manipulations.

I’m an entrepreneur and writer who is passionate about startups and marketing. I am also the founder of Foxtail Marketing, a digital demand generation firm.

Source: How To Use Neuroscience To Improve Your Content Marketing Strategy

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Why You Should (Almost) Always Make the First Offer

Photo: vchal (Shutterstock)

For some reason, negotiation tends to be considered a specialized professional skill instead of a basic life one. Business school students and salespeople learn tons about how to work out deals, but most of the rest of us never learn much about how to negotiate. That’s one reason why buying a major asset like a house or car is so stressful for regular folks—negotiating is mysterious to us.

But everyone negotiates on a constant basis, and learning some of the fundamentals of banging out a mutually-beneficial deal is a crucial skill we should all acquire. The challenges of learning how to bargain is often the mixture of emotion, psychology, and math. Leverage can swing back and forth between parties, and emotions can play as much of a role as finances (as anyone who has overpaid for a house because they “fell in love with it” can attest).

That’s why learning some basic negotiation skills is essential—starting with why you should always seriously consider making the first offer.

The Anchoring Effect

You’ve probably heard that you should always make the first offer when negotiating, possibly with some vague explanation about setting the terms. This is, in fact, generally good advice—because of something called the Anchoring Effect.

The Anchoring Effect is all about bias—it’s an irrational tendency in human beings to rely on the first piece of data they acquire, regardless of its value. We all have this bias—study after study has confirmed that the first number you hear will influence how you value something. When sellers make the first offer, the final price is usually higher, and one study found that 85% of negotiated outcomes generally aligned with the first offer.

The crazy part is, even when we know the first piece of data shouldn’t affect us, it does. In one experiment, people were asked to write down the last two digits of their own social security number and then asked if they would pay that much for various items. Then, they were asked to bid for the same things, and despite the fact that the “seed” number they’d been given was completely unrelated to anything, folks with higher social security numbers bid much higher for everything.

Dropping the anchor

The irrational power of the Anchoring Effect is why making the first offer (sometimes called “dropping the anchor”) is a powerful tool in a negotiation. But that doesn’t mean it always works—you need to know how to use it in order to get the full benefit of the effect.

Here are some things to consider when planning to drop an anchor into a negotiation:

  • Be aggressive. People often worry that being overly aggressive with an opening offer or price will insult or scare off the other party. But an aggressive first offer is your best strategy. An aggressive first offer leaves you room to “compromise,” while still getting a better deal in the end (a form of the “Door in the Face” technique).
  • Don’t be absurd. Keep in mind that “aggressive” doesn’t mean “insane.” While an aggressive first offer can set the goalposts in your favor, throwing out an offer that is completely out of line with reality can make the other side wonder if you’re serious, competent, or credible.
  • Be specific. The more precise your first offer is, the more effective it will be in anchoring your opposition. The classic example is pricing a house: A list price of $255,500 will get higher bids than a list price of $255,000—or $256,000.

By putting some thought into the specifics of your first offer, you can most benefit from the irrational power of the Anchoring Effect.

Other negotiating success factors

As powerful as the Anchoring Effect can be in a negotiation, it’s not a magic spell. The first thing to keep in mind is that if you’re dealing with an experienced and trained business or sales professional, chances are they know all about it and have been trained in ways to “defuse” the anchor, which is often as simple as ignoring it and pivoting to details, or offering an immediate “counter-anchor” in an effort to redefine the terms.

The key to a successful anchoring first offer is information, really. The ideal scenario for dropping an anchor is when you know more than the other side. When the other party has access to more information than you do, it’s very difficult to drop an anchor. For example, if a homeowner knows the real estate market in their area well, they know how much their property is worth, and your aggressive anchor will simply seem absurd.

Or consider interviewing for a job—the interviewer knows what the budgeted salary for a position is, and you don’t. If your first salary ask is way outside that budget, it’s not going to have the intended effect. On the other hand, if you both know the same amount of information, your anchor will be predictable and expected, making it easier to defuse.

And if you’re both in the dark, a first offer will be pretty much a guess, making it impossible to know whether you’re actually helping yourself with your shot in the dark anchor. All that being said, making the first offer has been proven to have a beneficial psychological effect on the other side of a negotiation. So use this power. Just do your research first.

By: Jeff Somers

Source: Why You Should (Almost) Always Make the First Offer

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Related contents:

Getting to yes : negotiating agreement without giving in (Reprint ed.). New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0140065343.Adnan, Muhamad Hariz; Hassan, Mohd Fadzil; Aziz, Izzatdin Abdul; Rashid, Nuraini Abdul (2019), Saeed, Faisal; Gazem, Nadhmi; Mohammed, Fathey; Busalim, Abdelsalam (eds.), “

Bargaining for Advantage. United States: Penguin. ISBN 9780670881338.Saner, Raymond. The Expert Negotiator, The Netherlands: Kluwer Law International, 2000 (p. 40)

“Perspective taking as a means to overcome motivational barriers in negotiations: When putting oneself in the opponents shoes helps to walk towards agreements” (PDF). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 101 (4): 771–790. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.728.9853. doi:10.1037/a0023801. PMID 2172844

“Against Gridlock: The Viability of Interest-Based Legislative Negotiation”, Harvard Law & Policy Review (Online), vol. 3, p. 1 (2009).World Trade Organization, WTO members search for compromise as text-based negotiations on fishing subsidies continue, published 9 October 2020, accessed 15 October 2020United Nations,

Previewing work ahead, UN Assembly President says Member States must agree a bold post-2015 agenda, published 15 January 2015, accessed 16 October 2020

CNA, 15 nations complete ‘text-based’ negotiations for RCEP, signing xpected in 2020, accessed 15 October 2020CNA, India will not join RCEP trade deal in blow to sprawling Asian pact, published 4 November 2019, accessed 16 October 2020Johnston, Peter D (2008).

Negotiating with Giants. United States: Negotiation Press. pp. Pages 4 to 5. ISBN 978-0980942101.Chernow, Ron (2004). Titan, The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. United States: Penguin Random House. pp. Pages 111 to 112. ISBN 978-1400077304.

“Athletes’ performance declines following contract years”. ScienceDaily. 22 January 2014.Johnston, Peter D. (2008). Negotiating with Giants. United States: Negotiation Press. pp. Page 4. ISBN 978-0980942101.Johnston, Peter D. (2008). Negotiating with Giants. United States: Negotiation Press. p. 168. ISBN 978-0980942101.IBHS Union Voice (3 December 2008).

“”Bad Faith Negotiation”, Union Voice”. Unitas.wordpress.com. Retrieved 24 August 2014.example of use – “the Republicans accused the Democrats of “negotiating in bad faith”, Oxford Online DictionaryDouglas Stuart and Harvey Starr,

“The ‘Inherent Bad Faith Model’ Reconsidered: Dulles, Kennedy, and Kissinger”, Political Psychology(subscription required)“… the most widely studied is the inherent bad faith model of one’s opponent …”, The handbook of social psychology, Volumes 1-2, edited by Daniel T. Gilbert, Susan T. Fiske, Gardner Lindzey

“Merlone, U., & Lupano, M. (2021). Third-party funding: The minimum claim value. European Journal of Operational Research”. European Journal of Operational Research. 296 (2): 738–747. doi:10.1016/j.ejor.2021.04.059. S2CID 236586390.Malhotra, D.,

Four Strategies for Making Concessions, Harvard Business School, Working Knowledge, published 6 March 2006, accesses 2 June 2021“Negotiation” (PDF). Saylor Academy. Retrieved 10 April 2022.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83 (5) (2002), pp. 1131–1140

“BEST ALTERNATIVE TO A NEGOTIATED AGREEMENT”. University of Kuala Lumpur. Retrieved 10 April 2022 – via Course Hero.Lewicki, Roy J.; Barry, Bruce; Saunders, David M. (2014). Negotiation: Readings, Exercises and Cases (7th ed.). McGraw Hill Education. p. 467. ISBN 9780077862428.Thomas, Kenneth W (21 November 2006).

“Conflict and conflict management: Reflections and update” (PDF). Journal of Organizational Behavior. 13 (3): 265–274. doi:10.1002/job.4030130307. hdl:10945/40295. S2CID 145635552.Shell, R. G. (2006). Bargaining for advantage. New York: Penguin Books.Marks, M; Harold, C (2011). “Who Asks and Who Receives in Salary Negotiation”. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 32 (3): 371–394. doi:10.1002/job.671.Goldman, Alvin (1991).

Settling For More: Mastering Negotiating Strategies and Techniques. Washington, D.C.: The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-87179-651-6.Pease, Barbara and Alan (2006).

The Definitive Book of Body Language. New York: Bantam Dell. p. 131. ISBN 978-0-553-80472-0.Donaldson, Michael C.; Donaldson, Mimi (1996). Negotiating for dummies. New York: Hungry Minds. ISBN 978-1-56884-867-9.Van Kleef, G.A.; De Dreu, C.K.W.; Manstead, A.S.R. (2006).

“Supplication and Appeasement in Conflict and Negotiation: The Interpersonal Effects of Disappointment, Worry, Guilt, and Regret” (PDF). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 91 (1): 124–142. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.91.1.124. PMID 16834484. S2CID 11970038.Carnevale, P. J. D.; Isen, A. M. (1986).

“The influence of positive affect and visual access on the discovery of integrative solutions in bilateral negotiation” (PDF). Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 37: 1–13. doi:10.1016/0749-5978(86)90041-5. hdl:2027.42/26263.Bowles, Hannah; Babcock, Linda; Lai, Lei (2006).

“Social incentives for gender diVerences in the propensity to initiate negotiations: Sometimes it does hurt to ask” (PDF). Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 103: 84–103. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2006.09.001. S2CID 18202551.Callahan, J; Besterfield-Sacre, M.E.; Carpenter, J.P.; Needy, K.L.; Schrader, C.B. (2016).

“Listening and Negotiation”. 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. doi:10.18260/p.25571.Amekudzi-Kennedy, A.A.; Hall, K.D.; Harding, T.S.; Moll, A.J.; Callahan, J. (2017). “Listening and Negotiation II”. 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. doi:10.18260/1-2–28631.McKersie, R.B. (2012).

“negotiation”. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 19 August 2019.“The Day-to-Day Life of a Dean: Engaging in Negotiations and negotiations”. Negotiation Journal 475-488. 28 (4): 475–488. doi:10.1111/j.1571-9979.2012.00352.x.Fisher, R.; Ury, W.; Patton, B. (2012). Getting to yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in. Penguin: New York.

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The Vital Crosstalk Between Breath And Brain

Neuroscientists have begun to uncover how breathing is coordinated with other behaviors and how its rhythm may influence a variety of regions in the brain....CREDIT: ESTHER AARTS

If you’re lucky enough to live to 80, you’ll take up to a billion breaths in the course of your life, inhaling and exhaling enough air to fill about 50 Goodyear blimps or more. We take about 20,000 breaths a day, sucking in oxygen to fuel our cells and tissues, and ridding the body of carbon dioxide that builds up as a result of cellular metabolism. Breathing is so essential to life that people generally die within minutes if it stops.

It’s a behavior so automatic that we tend to take it for granted. But breathing is a physiological marvel — both extremely reliable and incredibly flexible. Our breathing rate can change almost instantaneously in response to stress or arousal and even before an increase in physical activity. And breathing is so seamlessly coordinated with other behaviors like eating, talking, laughing and sighing that you may have never even noticed how your breathing changes to accommodate them. Breathing can also influence your state of mind, as evidenced by the controlled breathing practices of yoga and other ancient meditative traditions.

In recent years, researchers have begun to unravel some of the underlying neural mechanisms of breathing and its many influences on body and mind. In the late 1980s, neuroscientists identified a network of neurons in the brainstem that sets the rhythm for respiration. That discovery has been a springboard for investigations into how the brain integrates breathing with other behaviors. At the same time, researchers have been finding evidence that breathing may influence activity across wide swaths of the brain, including ones with important roles in emotion and cognition.

“Breathing has a lot of jobs,” says Jack L. Feldman, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and coauthor of a recent article on the interplay of breathing and emotion in the Annual Review of Neuroscience. “It’s very complicated because we’re constantly changing our posture and our metabolism, and it has to be coordinated with all these other behaviors.”

Each breath a symphony of lung, muscle, brain

Every time you inhale, your lungs fill with oxygen-rich air that then diffuses into your bloodstream to be distributed throughout your body. A typical pair of human lungs contains about 500 million tiny sacs called alveoli, the walls of which are where gases pass between the airway and bloodstream. The total surface area of this interface is about 750 square feet — a bit more than the square footage of a typical one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, and a bit less than that of a racquetball court.

“The remarkable thing about mammals, including humans, is that we pack an enormous amount of surface area into our chests,” says Feldman. More surface area means more gas is exchanged per second.

But the lungs can’t do it alone. They’re essentially limp sacks of tissue. “In order for this to work, the lungs have to be pumped like a bellows,” Feldman says. And they are — with each inhalation, the diaphragm muscle at the bottom of the chest cavity contracts, moving downward about half an inch. At the same time, the intercostal muscles between the ribs move the rib cage up and out — all of which expands the lungs and draws in air. (If you’ve ever had the wind knocked out of you by a blow to the stomach, you know all about the diaphragm; and if you’ve eaten barbecued ribs, you have encountered intercostal muscles.)

At rest, these muscles contract only during inhalation. Exhalation occurs passively when the muscles relax and the lungs deflate. During exercise, different sets of muscles contract to actively force out air and speed up respiration.

Breathing requires coordinated movements of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles. When these muscles contract, air is drawn into the lungs, where hundreds of millions of tiny alveoli provide a surface where oxygen can diffuse into the blood and carbon dioxide can diffuse out. With each exhalation, these muscles relax, and air is forced back out.

Unlike the heart muscle, which has pacemaker cells that set its rhythm, the muscles that control breathing take their orders from the brain. Given the life-enabling importance of those brain signals, it took a surprisingly long time to track them down. One of the first to ponder their source was Galen, the Greek physician who noticed that gladiators whose necks were broken above a certain level were unable to breathe normally. Later experiments pointed to the brainstem, and in the 1930s, the British physiologist Edgar Adrian demonstrated that the dissected brainstem of a goldfish continues to produce rhythmic electrical activity, which he believed to be the pattern-generating signal underlying respiration.

But the exact location of the brainstem respiratory-pattern generator remained unknown until the late 1980s, when Feldman and colleagues narrowed it down to a network of about 3,000 neurons in the rodent brainstem (in humans it contains about 10,000 neurons). It’s now called the preBötzinger Complex (preBötC). Neurons there spontaneously exhibit rhythmic bursts of electrical activity that, relayed through intermediate neurons, direct the muscles that control breathing.

Over the years, some people have assumed Bötzinger must have been a famous anatomist, Feldman says, perhaps a German or Austrian. But in fact the name came to him in a flash during a dinner at a scientific conference where he suspected a colleague was inappropriately about to claim the discovery for himself. Feldman clinked his glass to propose a toast and suggested naming the brain region after the wine being served, which came from the area around Bötzingen, Germany. Perhaps lubricated by said wine, the others agreed, and the name stuck. “Scientists are just as weird as anyone else,” Feldman says. “We have fun doing things like this.”

A long, deep breath can express many things: sadness, relief, resignation, yearning, exhaustion. But we humans aren’t the only ones who sigh — it’s thought that all mammals do — and it may be because sighing has an important biological function in addition to its expressive qualities.

Pinpointing breath’s rhythm setters

Much of Feldman’s subsequent research has focused on understanding exactly how neurons in the preBötC generate the breathing rhythm. This work has also laid a foundation for his lab and others to investigate how the brain orchestrates the interplay between breathing and other behaviors that require alterations in breathing.

Sighing is one interesting example. A long, deep breath can express many things: sadness, relief, resignation, yearning, exhaustion. But we humans aren’t the only ones who sigh — it’s thought that all mammals do — and it may be because sighing has an important biological function in addition to its expressive qualities. Humans sigh every few minutes, and each sigh begins with an inhale that takes in about twice as much air as a normal breath. Scientists suspect this helps pop open collapsed alveoli, the tiny chambers in the lung where gas exchange occurs, much as blowing into a latex glove pops open the fingers. Several lines of evidence support this idea: Hospital ventilators programmed to incorporate periodic sighing, for example, have been shown to improve lung function and maintain patients’ blood oxygen levels.

In a study published in 2016 in Nature, Feldman and colleagues identified four small populations of neurons that appear to be responsible for generating sighs in rodents. Two of these groups of neurons reside in a brainstem region near the preBötC, and they send signals to the other two groups, which reside inside the preBötC. When the researchers killed these preBötC neurons with a highly selective toxin, the rats ceased to sigh, but their breathing remained robust. On the other hand, when scientists injected neuropeptides that activate the neurons, the rats sighed 10 times more frequently. In essence, the researchers conclude, these four groups of neurons form a circuit that tells preBötC to interrupt its regular program of normal-sized breaths and order up a deeper breath.

The preBötC also has a role in coordinating other behaviors with breathing. One of Feldman’s collaborators on the sighing paper, neuroscientist Kevin Yackle, and colleagues recently used mice to investigate interactions between breathing and vocalizations. When separated from their nest, newborn mice make ultrasonic cries, too high-pitched for humans to hear. There are typically several cries at regular intervals within a single breath, not unlike the syllables in human speech, says Yackle, who’s now at the University of California, San Francisco. “You have this slower breathing rhythm and then nested within it you have this faster vocalization rhythm,” he says.

To figure out how this works, the researchers worked their way backwards from the larynx, the part of the throat involved in producing sound. They used anatomical tracers to identify the neurons that control the larynx and follow their connections back to a cluster of cells in the brainstem, in an area they named the intermediate reticular oscillator (iRO). Using a variety of techniques, the researchers found that killing or inhibiting iRO neurons removes the ability to vocalize a cry, and stimulating them increases the number of cries per breath.

When the researchers dissected out slices of brain tissue with iRO neurons, the cells kept firing in a regular pattern. “These neurons produce a rhythm that’s exactly like the cries in the animal, where it’s faster than but nested within the preBötC breathing rhythm,” Yackle says.

Breathing appears to have far-reaching influences on the brain, including on regions with roles in cognition and emotion, such as the hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex. These effects may originate from signals generated by the brainstem breathing center, preBötC; from sensory inputs via the vagus nerve or olfactory system; or in response to levels of oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood.

Additional experiments suggested that iRO neurons help integrate vocalizations with breathing by telling the preBötC to make tiny inhalations that interrupt exhalation — enabling a series of brief cries to fit neatly within a single exhaled breath. That is, rhythmic crying isn’t produced by a series of exhalations, but rather from one long exhalation with several interruptions.

The findings, reported earlier this year in Neuron, may have implications for understanding human language. The number of syllables per second falls within a relatively narrow range across all human languages, Yackle says. Perhaps, he suggests, that’s due to constraints imposed by the need to coordinate vocalizations with breathing.

Setting the pace in the brain

Recent studies have suggested that breathing can influence people’s performance on a surprisingly wide range of lab tests. Where someone is in the cycle of inhalation and exhalation can influence abilities as diverse as detecting a faint touch and distinguishing three-dimensional objects. One study found that people tend to inhale just before a cognitive task — and that doing so tends to improve performance. Several have found that it is only breathing through the nose that has these effects; breathing through the mouth does not.

One emerging idea about how this might work focuses on well-documented rhythmic oscillations of electrical activity in the brain. These waves, often measured with electrodes on the scalp, capture the cumulative activity of thousands of neurons, and for decades some neuroscientists have argued that they reflect communication between far-flung brain regions that could underlie important aspects of cognition. They could be, for example, how the brain integrates sensory information processed separately in auditory and visual parts of the brain to produce what we experience as a seamless perception of a scene’s sounds and sights. Some scientists have even proposed that such synchronized activity could be the basis of consciousness itself (needless to say, this has been hard to prove).

Growing evidence suggests breathing may set the pace for some of these oscillations. In experiments with rodents, several research teams have found that the breathing rhythm influences waves of activity in the hippocampus, a region critical for learning and memory. During wakefulness, the collective electrical activity of neurons in the hippocampus rises and falls at a consistent rate — typically between six and 10 times per second. This theta rhythm, as it’s called, occurs in all animals that have been studied, including humans.

Not only does the respiration rhythm synchronize activity in brain regions involved in emotion and memory, it can also affect people’s performance on tasks involving emotion and memory.

In a 2016 study, neuroscientist Adriano Tort at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil and colleagues set out to study theta oscillations but noticed that their electrodes were also picking up another rhythm, a slower one with about three peaks per second, roughly the same as a resting mouse’s respiration rate. At first they worried it was an artifact, Tort says, perhaps caused by an unstable electrode or the animal’s movements. But additional experiments convinced them that not only was the rhythmic activity real and synched with respiration, but also that it acted like a metronome to set the pace for the faster theta oscillations in the hippocampus.

Around the same time, neuroscientist Christina Zelano and colleagues reported similar findings in humans. Using data from electrodes placed by surgeons on the brains of epilepsy patients to monitor their seizures, the researchers found that natural breathing synchronizes oscillations within several brain regions, including the hippocampus and the amygdala, an important player in emotional processing. This synchronizing effect diminished when the researchers asked subjects to breathe through their mouth, suggesting that sensory feedback from nasal airflow plays a key role.

Not only does the respiration rhythm synchronize activity in brain regions involved in emotion and memory, it can also affect people’s performance on tasks involving emotion and memory, Zelano and colleagues found. In one experiment they monitored subjects’ respiration and asked them to identify the emotion expressed by people in a set of photos developed by psychologists to test emotion recognition. Subjects were quicker to identify fearful faces when the photo appeared as they were taking a breath compared to during exhalation. In a different test, subjects more accurately remembered whether they’d seen a photo previously when it was presented as they inhaled. Again, the effects were strongest when subjects breathed through the nose.

More recent work suggests the respiratory rhythm could synchronize activity not just within but also between brain regions. In one study, neuroscientists Nikolaos Karalis and Anton Sirota found that the respiration rate synchronizes activity between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex in sleeping mice. This synchronization could play a role in making long-term memories, Karalis and Sirota suggest in a paper published earlier this year in Nature Communications. Many neuroscientists think memories initially form in the hippocampus before being transferred during sleep to the cortex for long-term storage — a process thought to require synchronized activity between the hippocampus and cortex.

For Tort, such findings suggest there may be important links between respiration and brain function, but he says more work is needed to connect the dots. The evidence that breathing influences brain oscillations is strong, he says. The challenge now is figuring out what that means for behavior, cognition and emotion.

Controlled breath, calm mind?

For millennia, practitioners of yoga and other ancient meditation traditions have practiced controlled breathing as a means of influencing their state of mind. In recent years, researchers have become increasingly interested in the biological mechanisms of these effects and how they might be applied to help people with anxiety and mood disorders.

One challenge has been separating the effects of breathing from other aspects of these practices, says Helen Lavretsky, a psychiatrist at UCLA. “It’s really hard to distinguish what’s most effective when you’re doing this multicomponent intervention where there’s stretching and movement and visualization and chanting,” she says. Not to mention the cultural and spiritual components many people attach to the practice.

For many years, Lavretsky has collaborated with neuroscientists and others to investigate how different types of meditation affect the brain and biological markers of stress and immune function. She has found, among other things, that meditation can improve performance on lab tests of memory and alter brain connectivity in older people with mild cognitive impairment, a potential precursor to Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. In more recent studies, which have yet to be published, she’s moved toward investigating whether the breath control methods alone can help.

“Even though I’m a psychiatrist, my research is on how to avoid [prescribing] drugs,” says Lavretsky, who is also a certified yoga instructor. She thinks breathing exercises might be a good alternative for many people, especially with more research on which breathing techniques work best for which conditions and how they might be tailored to individuals. “We all have this tool, we just have to learn how to use it,” she says.

Source: What happens in your brain when you breathe?

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Kanaide, Hideo; Ichiki, Toshihiro; Nishimura, Junji; Hirano, Katsuya (2003-11-28). “Cellular Mechanism of Vasoconstriction Induced by Angiotensin II It Remains To Be Determined”. Circulation Research. 93 (11): 1015–1017. doi:10.1161/01.RES.0000105920.33926.60. ISSN 0009-7330. PMID 14645130.

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Burnout Is Real. Here’s How To Spot It and Recover

When people ask me why I became a writer, I have plenty of reasons to list: Words bring me joy. I ask questions constantly. And when I hear a good story, I’ll repeat it again and again until my friends get tired of hearing it. But in July of 2021, these responses started to feel hollow.

I was burned out. “I feel like I sprained my brain,” I told my friend over the phone. When I wasn’t working, I felt fine; when I tried to use my head, it felt like putting weight on a bum ankle.

I know I’m not alone. At this moment, when work is isolating some people at home while putting others in danger, burnout seems particularly rampant. In a survey of 1,500 workers from Indeed in March 2021, 53 percent said they were burned out—up by nearly 10 percent from the previous year. Another survey of nearly 21,000 healthcare workers published that May in The Lancet found similar rates.

I wanted to regain my curiosity and the joy I find in language as soon as possible, so I reached out to scientists to find out what, exactly, was happening in my body—and what I could do to make it better.

Burnout is a phenomenon so old, they made a sin out of it, according to Gordon Parker, a professor of psychiatry at the University of New South Wales. Once called “acedia,” the eighth cardinal sin described a state of listlessness, apathy, and torpor observed in fourth century monks. “They would wake up one day and say ‘the sky is no longer blue,’” Parker said. These monks would stop getting pleasure out of life and would lose their faith in God.

They were more than just tired. They had forgotten the meaning of all that they did. And that pretty much describes burnout. The response to chronic stress goes beyond exhaustion; sufferers also experience a loss of idealism and feel like they’re bad at whatever they do. Those are the three prongs identified by the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the assessment most often used by psychologists to evaluate such mental fatigue.

And all that angst isn’t just in your head—it’s very much a physical phenomenon, rooted in the body’s stress-response system. Scientists studying the syndrome are particularly interested in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, also called the HPA axis. When we’re faced with a threat—say, a bear chasing us, or the prospect of responding to an ambiguously stern-sounding email—the HPA axis releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol helps the body run from whatever is threatening it; it raises our heart rate and helps our body harvest energy from glucose.

Cortisol also decreases activity in systems you don’t need when your life is in immediate danger, like the reproductive and immune systems. When the hypothalamus, a structure in the brain that acts like the control room for the HPA axis, detects high levels of cortisol in the blood, it’s supposed to say “okay, my work is done here,” and shut the stress response down.

Researchers can capture a snapshot of how the stress-response system is functioning with a test called the dexamethasone challenge. Dexamethasone is a drug that tells the hypothalamus to suppress the stress-response system. Given a dose of it, a healthy person should start producing less cortisol. But multiple studies have found that people with burnout have an altered response to the drug. Some studies find that those individuals don’t react to dexamethasone much, if at all—they continue pumping out more cortisol regardless.

Other research finds that people with burnout have an exaggerated response to the drug—they suppress cortisol more than the healthy controls do. Researchers hypothesize that these two seemingly contradictory findings represent two stages: burning out, and being burnt out.

“During the burning-out phase, the system is in overdrive,” Parker said. When stress is chronic, cortisol levels in the body keep going up, but the system doesn’t shut itself down. The burnt-out phase begins when that system is tapped out, says Renzo Bianchi, a psychologist at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. “Your stress response gets so exhausted that you stop producing cortisol at high levels,” Bianchi said.

Cortisol may stress us out, but we also need the hormone to survive. It’s quite literally what gets us up in the morning. So when people enter this “burnt out” phase, they feel tired and cynical. They lose drive. They might even experience cognitive impairment and memory changes.

These symptoms might sound similar to clinical depression. But according to some scientists, including Christina Maslach of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, burnout and depression are not at all the same.

Burnout is a syndrome that may cause a person to become depressed; depression might predispose a person to burnout. But ultimately, burnout is distinct in that work is always at its root. People often feel better as soon as they’re able to get away from the cause of their stress, Parker said. That’s not usually the case with depression.

That distinction is important to make, because by treating burnout as an illness—like depression or an anxiety disorder—we risk offering the wrong solutions, Maslach said. You can’t self-care away your burnout, she added. It’s not so much about the individual as it is the situation they’re in. You have to remove the cause of your stress, and that often requires structural changes in the workplace.

That was disappointing for me to hear. When I reached out for expert advice, I’d already spent several of the preceding months focused on getting more sleep, running more often, and trying to take short vacations. All of these habits support good mental health, and might even offer short-term relief, Bianchi says—but they don’t get at the root cause of burnout. You can take all the time off you need, he says, but without identifying the root causes of your stress, you’ll eventually return to the same place.

In scientific literature that investigates risk factors for burnout, six come up again and again, according to a review co-authored by Maslach and published in the 2016 book Stress: Cognition, Emotion, and Behavior. There’s workload, the amount of autonomy you have, and fairness in the workplace. Then there’s reward—how much your work is recognized and compensated—and workplace community, or the social support you receive from colleagues or clients. Finally, values and meaning: whether or not the work you’re doing syncs up with your ideals.

Employers have the power to prevent burnout by creating a fair and supportive workplace, Maslach says—one where people feel like they have autonomy and are able to cope with their workload. But people with burnout may need to troubleshoot which factors are negatively impacting them so they know how to take action on their own. For some people, Maslach says, curing burnout might necessitate moving organizations or switching fields entirely.

That wasn’t my route. Instead, I worked through Maslach’s six risk factors like a checklist. The more I thought about it, the more I came to believe that my work load itself wasn’t the main problem; instead, I realized that it had been a long time since I’d thought about what had initially excited me about journalism—talking to scientists, love for the craft of writing itself, the thrill of finding a new story—in other words, my values.

I created spreadsheets of topics that intrigued me, scientists I loved speaking to, and projects I had long put on the back-burner. Then, I brainstormed ways to make time for them, blocking off chunks of time for tasks like going down internet rabbit holes in search of stories.

While I expected the answer to involve loads of rest, curing my own personal case of burnout turned out to be a lot of work. But it was worth it. Three months after starting this research, words excite me again. I’m back to annoying my friends with facts about frogs and physics. And several times a week, without fail, I spend an afternoon in the coffee shop around the corner to work on my personal creative projects.

Nine months ago, before my burnout began, I told a friend “I feel like I have the best job in the world.” By getting to the root of my stress, I’ve managed to get that feeling back again.

By: Isobel Whitcomb

Isobel Whitcomb is a freelance health and environmental journalist based in Portland, Oregon. Passionate about covering the intersection of science and the human experience, they cover everything from wildfire to chronic pain. Her work in Popular Science focuses on exploring the wellness industry and debunking health misinformation.

Source: Burnout Is Real. Here’s How to Spot It—and Recover.

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