Not Your Mother’s Hiccups Remedy
We can all agree that hiccups are one of the most uncomfortable sensations. You can be going about your day, minding your own business, and out of nowhere, you feel this violent contraction in your belly and throat. With a weird sound to boot. Ew.
Hiccups are involuntary spasms of the diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle that is crucial for breathing. Your diaphragm separates your chest cavity from your abdomen. When your diaphragm involuntarily contracts, air is forced into your throat and hits your voice box — this is what causes you to expel air and make the “hic” sound.
Hiccups can happen for a wide variety of reasons. According to WebMD, hiccups can be caused by eating too quickly, feeling nervous, feeling excited, stress, swallowing air, drinking bubbly drinks, drinking too much alcohol, or sudden temperature changes.
Hiccups typically only last a few minutes but are a huge annoyance. There are so many random hiccup remedies out there. Across your life, you’re bound to have a friend who has told you their foolproof remedy — to drink hot sauce, hold your breath, or dunk your head upside down. Unfortunately, none of these “foolproof” remedies have worked for me — except one.
The foolproof solution
Because hiccups are caused by spasms of the diaphragm, it’s important to relax the diaphragm muscle in order to stop the spasms.
I learned of this remedy five years ago and it hasn’t let me down yet!
Step 1: Hold your breath as long as you can (I know, I know — but just try it).
Step 2: Right when you can’t hold your breath any longer, drink water.
Step 3: As you drink, breathe out through your nose, letting all the air out and relaxing your diaphragm.
The theory is that you are tricking your body into thinking it’s drowning. I’m not sure if that is true or not. Regardless, this strategy relaxes the diaphragm and intercostal muscles which underlies the core mechanism of hiccups, thus stopping them.
And in all my years of using this, it hasn’t let me down!
However, in case you want a more scientifically-based remedy, here is a bonus. Using science and my training as a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, here is another solution to hiccups.
Bonus remedy — the scientific version
As a therapist, I teach people how to relax their diaphragm on command to combat anxiety. Because we know that hiccups are caused by involuntary spasms of the diaphragm, it is possible that diaphragmatic breathing can offer a solution.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a way to breathe using the diaphragm rather than breathing using the chest. Adults lose this ability as they get older — if you ever watch a child breathe, you see that their bellies expand when they breathe in, and fall when they breathe out. This is diaphragmatic breathing.
When most people are anxious, they try to take deep breaths using the chest. But when we do that, we actually mimic the chest tightness we feel when we have anxiety, which is counterproductive! This also doesn’t relax the diaphragm, which is what we need if we want to reduce hiccups.
When breathing using the diaphragm, instead of expanding our chest, the abdomen expands with each breath in, and contracts with each out-breath.
Think of your abdomen like a balloon. You want to breathe in air and send it straight down to your abdomen, and as you breathe in, that balloon (or your abdomen) expands, and as you breathe out, it falls. *Pro-tip: don’t try to force air down or force your stomach to expand, because you’ll give yourself a stomach ache!
You can think of your nervous system like pedals on a car. Your sympathetic nervous system is the part of your nervous system that increases arousal or revs you up — which is the gas pedal. It’s counterpart, the parasympathetic nervous system, is the rest and relax system, which calms us down — that’s the brake pedal. When we breathe in using our chest, we actually rev up our system (or hit the gas pedal). But when we breathe using our diaphragm, especially taking slow, long breaths out — we hit the brakes. That out-breath cues our body and brain to relax.
Using this mechanism, you can relax your diaphragm and say goodbye to those annoying hiccups.
Diaphragmatic breathing takes practice. A good rule of thumb is to practice for 5 minutes, 2–3 times per day. And don’t just practice when you’re anxious — if you practice in any state, you’re more likely to prevent anxiety and stave it off when it comes.
Here are some links to help you practice.
And some additional information and exercises from the Cleveland Clinic.
Stop hiccups for good
I never thought that I would be writing about hiccups as a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. But psychology has a lot to offer to reduce these annoying diaphragm spasms.
My foolproof remedy is to hold your breath as long as you can, and at the last second take several drinks of water while taking long out-breaths and relaxing your diaphragm. For a more scientifically-based remedy, use diaphragmatic breathing, which is a proven strategy to relax your nervous system.
With these tips, hiccups will go from a nuisance with no solution, to a minor, short-lived inconvenience.
*Footnote. The author of this article is not a medical doctor and the techniques discussed in this article are not medical advice. If hiccups persist more than 48 hours, consult your doctor as this could be a result of an underlying condition.