Why Do We Sigh?

“You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh…”

Okay, you can heave a great sigh of relief right now because no, I’m not going to sing the rest of those famous lyrics to you. But I am going to argue that a sigh is usually NOT just a sigh.

Featured Image by TMAB2003 // CC 2.0

It would be easy to dismiss human sighs as the purely physical response our body involuntarily elicits to reset breathing patterns that are getting out of whack and to keep our respiratory system flexible, because that’s what scientists (who spend a lot of money researching this subject) contend.

But sighs are far more fascinating than that and can be extremely psychological and emotional. First, we mustn’t assume sighing always represents something negative like apprehension, anxiety, restlessness, disappointment, perplexity, disgust, contempt, remorse or impatience. Often the sigher is conveying happier expressions like inspiration, admiration, yearning, ecstasy, awe or even “I find you to be an amazing turn-on and there’s no hotel room close enough for how much I want you right now.”

Since that last sentiment is probably the most intriguing and given that interpreting your significant other’s sighs is probably just a tad confusing, I’m giving a quick lesson (albeit a little tongue-in-cheek) in a subject called “Sighzmology.” (okay I made that name up, but you gotta admit it sounds important!)

10 Categories of Sighs to Help You Navigate Your Relationship.

  1. The “I’ve heard your parrot joke ad nauseam, but because I love you, I’ll laugh uproariously like I’m hearing it for the first time when you tell it in front of our new friends” sigh.
  2. The “I just realized I’m 100% wrong during our argument but I’m not going to back down, so instead I’ll pretend I find you far too tedious to continue” sigh.
  3. The “I cannot believe Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner split up” sigh or his coordinating answering sigh of, “I cannot believe you waste time paying attention to people we will never break bread with” sigh.
  4. The “Oh, so you didn’t bother to shave” sigh. She gives it as she glances at your shadowy face when your mother-in-law rings the doorbell. He gives it in bed as his hands slide expectantly hopeful down your leg.
  5. The “You ate the last one?” sigh. Heard from the kitchen through the frantic rummaging of cellophane during a particularly riveting episode of Game of Thrones.
  6. The “If you’re really paying attention then repeat back to me what I just said,” sigh.
  7. The Entrapment Sigh – “Oh? Did you think you just heard me sigh? What have you done recently that would make me sigh?”
  8. The “It’s your turn” sigh. Heard when dishes pile-up in the sink, children argue, you’re out of eggs, the car needs gas, or chillingly . . . during sex.
  9. The “You gave the wrong answer to my asking if our wedding ring makes my finger look fat?” sigh. And his corresponding, “How many variations are there to that same old fat question?” sigh.
  10. The Phantom Sigh. Your significant other is out of town, but yet you still hear it reverberating loudly off the empty, silent walls of darkened, stagnant rooms. (Closely related to the Guilty Conscience Sigh.)

With practice you’ll soon be a Sigh Expert and then  I’ll meet you in Italy under The Bridge of Sighs, of course. Meanwhile, you might enjoy watching these celebrity sighs from different movie scenes.  How many of them can you name?


Teigen KH (2008). Is a sigh “just a sigh”? Sighs as emotional signals and responses to a difficult task. Scandinavian journal of psychology, 49 (1), 49-57 PMID: 18190402

Vlemincx E, Van Diest I, Lehrer PM, Aubert AE, & Van den Bergh O (2010). Respiratory variability preceding and following sighs: a resetter hypothesis. Biological psychology, 84 (1), 82-7 PMID: 19744538

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Anxiety, Body & Mind

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