Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 89–98 | Cite as

Psychophysiological Effects of Breathing Instructions for Stress Management

  • Ansgar Conrad
  • Anett Müller
  • Sigrun Doberenz
  • Sunyoung Kim
  • Alicia E. Meuret
  • Eileen Wollburg
  • Walton T. RothEmail author
Original Paper


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.


Anxiety Hyperventilation Panic Relaxation Respiration Stress 



This research was supported by grants of the National Institutes of Health (MH066953-01) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (ROT0042825) awarded to Dr. Roth.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ansgar Conrad
    • 1
    • 2
  • Anett Müller
    • 3
  • Sigrun Doberenz
    • 3
  • Sunyoung Kim
    • 1
  • Alicia E. Meuret
    • 4
  • Eileen Wollburg
    • 1
    • 3
  • Walton T. Roth
    • 1
    • 5
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesStanford University School of Medicine, and the Veterans Affairs Health Care SystemPalo AltoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Clinical and Developmental PsychologyUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany
  3. 3.Department of Biological PsychologyTechnical UniversityDresdenGermany
  4. 4.Department of PsychologySouthern Methodist UniversityDallasUSA
  5. 5.VA Palo Alto Health Care System (116F-PAD)Palo AltoUSA

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