We’ve all been told that breathing strategies are good for relieving stress, but a new study may have finally figured out why. The animal study found that a group of nerves in the brains of mice that regulate breathing are also directly connected to the arousal center of the brain, which suggests that they have an effect on brain activity level. The researchers plan to further study this finding in humans.

The study, now published online in Science, may explain why regulating your breathing can help to calm you down, and control anxiety and stress, Time reported.

Read: Take A Deep Breath: The Science Behind How Certain Breathing Techniques Can Quell A Panic Attack

“This liaison to the rest of the brain means that if we can slow breathing down, as we can do by deep breathing or slow controlled breaths, the idea would be that these neurons then don’t signal the arousal center, and don’t hyperactivate the brain,” lead researcher Mark Krasnow, a professor of biochemistry at Stanford University, told Time. “So you can calm your breathing and also calm your mind.”

For their research, the team looked at 3,000 neurons in the brain stems of rodents that control all of the animal’s different breathing patterns. The team genetically altered these neurons in several mice to see if breathing patterns were affected, but after several experiments, observed that the mice did not show any changes in their breathing. However, they were surprised to note that the genetically altered mice did show changes in their anxious behavior, displaying signs of calmness during actions that would otherwise make the animals nervous. Results revealed that the team had unexpected disturbed nerves that were directly connected to the arousal center of the animals' brains. Instead of being alarmed in a disturbing situation, such as being moved from one cage to another, the animals stayed calm.

The team believe the same connection may exist in humans, which may explain why controlling breathing helps to calm anxiety. The team hope this discovery will lead to more effective ways to combat stress and anxiety in humans, and perhaps pave the way for a drug that could target this connection and pharmaceutically produce what already naturally exists.

Source: Yackle K, Schwartz LA, Kam K, et al. Breathing control center neurons that promote arousal in mice. Science . 2017

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