On Sighing

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny, nonny.

Sing no more ditties, sing no more
Of dumps so dull and heavy.
The fraud of men was ever so
Since summer first was leafy.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey, nonny, nonny.

(Shakespeare – Much Ado About Nothing)

I have a sighing habit. And it has been noticed. My first day in a new role, many years ago, I remember Aussie Nicole saying that I hadn’t stopped sighing, and it was driving her crazy. Recently Colleague 1 told Colleague 2 that she’d just have to get used to my sighing, and it didn’t necessarily indicate I was pissed off but did potentially have a myriad of meanings, including the sometimes correctly identified “sigh of disappointment”. Then the other day the woman I sit next to at work said “I’m going to start a tally chart of your sighing today! I reckon we’re up to at least ten already!”

So to save my colleagues and my papers from gusts of air and huffy sounding interjections, I did a bit of research into sighing and why we do it. Obviously, since a sigh is just a really deep breath with an audible exhale, it’s not surprising that sighing is really all about breathing. It originates from a life-saving reflex. We all sigh without realising we do it, just to open up our lungs and get enough oxygen in. There are theories that sighing acts as ‘a mental and physical reset’ – who hasn’t done a bit of deep breathing before something they’re nervous about? A sigh acts in the same way. For example, I know that when I’m tense my breathing gets more shallow, and as a result, I sigh more, in an attempt to get myself on an even keel.

Unfortunately, people perceive sighing as, in the main, an expression of negative emotions. Hence the “sigh of disappointment”. We think of sighs as being associated with frustration and difficulty. But actually I find that when I’m concentrating I sigh. And that’s a good thing for me. And what about sighs of satisfaction, or pleasure? How does a happy out-breath really differ from a negative one? Can you hear tone in breathing?

Anyway, I’m sure that despite my new-found self-awareness, sighing will continue – I don’t want my lungs to collapse, thanks very much. But as ever Shakespeare’s advice holds true today. In the spirit of “act the way you want to feel”, I won’t be sighing, but will instead continue to listen to my Happiness playlist, which is surely the modern version of singing “Hey nonny nonny”.

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