Fact Check

Did the NYT Tell People to 'Breathe Like a Baby' to Relieve Election Day Stress?

The list was mocked by some on the internet.

Published Nov 9, 2022

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On Nov. 8, 2022, the day of much-anticipated midterm elections, The New York Times published a list of tips to help particularly stressed election watchers. A couple of those tips earned the Times a round of jeering from right-wing media and social media users.

Yes, the tips came from the Times. Some seem straight forward enough. Limit scrolling on your phone for updates, take a short walk, for example. A couple of them went viral for the wrong reasons, including "breathe like a baby" and face-plunge into ice water.

The list of tips is titled "5 ways to soothe election stress" with pointers that include, "Breathe like a baby. Focus on expanding your belly as you breathe, which can send more oxygen to the brain." Here's a screenshot of the list, as posted on the social media platform Twitter:

(Screenshot, @nytimes Twitter page)

The phrase "breathe like a baby" may sound infantilizing, but the breathing practice described in the list above is a technique known as diaphragmatic breathing, sometimes called belly breathing, and it is known to ease anxiety and stress, whether it's from the watching election returns or anything else.

Licensed clinical psychologist Dianne Grande wrote in Psychology Today that the technique works because "it signals the brain and body to relax." That's because it stimulates the body's parasympathetic nervous system, known as the "rest and digest" aspect of the nervous system — think of it as the opposite of the "fight or flight" response, per the University of California, Los Angeles' Health blog.

We can't say we found much in the way of reputable medical sources to support the idea that going face first into a bowl of ice will help with anxiety, election-related or otherwise, though Psychology Today says research does support the idea that hot and cold baths can help with mood.

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"Relaxation Therapies," Integrative Digestive Health & Wellness, UCLA Health. https://www.uclahealth.org/medical-services/gastro/wellness/wellness-approaches/relaxation-therapies#:~:text=Diaphragmatic%20breathing,rest%20and%20digest)%20nervous%20system. Accessed 9 Nov. 2022.

Solan, Matthew. "Ease Anxiety and Stress: Take a (Belly) Breather." Harvard Health, 26 Apr. 2019, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/ease-anxiety-and-stress-take-a-belly-breather-2019042616521.

Grande, Dianne. "The Simplest Stress Management Skill." Psychology Today, 31 July 2021, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-it-together/202107/the-simplest-stress-management-skill.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who has been working in the news industry since 2006.

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