Original Paper

Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 89-98

First online:

Psychophysiological Effects of Breathing Instructions for Stress Management

  • Ansgar ConradAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, and the Veterans Affairs Health Care SystemDepartment of Clinical and Developmental Psychology, University of Tübingen
  • , Anett MüllerAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Psychology, Technical University
  • , Sigrun DoberenzAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Psychology, Technical University
  • , Sunyoung KimAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, and the Veterans Affairs Health Care System
  • , Alicia E. MeuretAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Southern Methodist University
  • , Eileen WollburgAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, and the Veterans Affairs Health Care SystemDepartment of Biological Psychology, Technical University
  • , Walton T. RothAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, and the Veterans Affairs Health Care SystemVA Palo Alto Health Care System (116F-PAD) Email author 

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access

Abstract

Stressed and tense individuals often are recommended to change the way they breathe. However, psychophysiological effects of breathing instructions on respiration are rarely measured. We tested the immediate effects of short and simple breathing instructions in 13 people seeking treatment for panic disorder, 15 people complaining of daily tension, and 15 controls. Participants underwent a 3-hour laboratory session during which instructions to direct attention to breathing and anti-hyperventilation instructions to breathe more slowly, shallowly, or both were given. Respiratory, cardiac, and electrodermal measures were recorded. The anti-hyperventilation instructions failed to raise end-tidal pCO2 above initial baseline levels for any of the groups because changes in respiratory rate were compensated for by changes in tidal volume and vice versa. Paying attention to breathing significantly reduced respiratory rate and decreased tidal volume instability compared to the other instructions. Shallow breathing made all groups more anxious than did other instructions. Heart rate and skin conductance were not differentially affected by instructions. We conclude that simple and short instructions to alter breathing do not change respiratory or autonomic measures in the direction of relaxation, except for attention to breathing, which increases respiratory stability. To understand the results of breathing instructions for stress and anxiety management, respiration needs to be monitored physiologically.

Keywords

Anxiety Hyperventilation Panic Relaxation Respiration Stress