Anxiety (Panic)/DepressionBreathingStress

Effect of breathing instruction on panic disorder and stress

Recommendations to modify breathing patterns are commonly given to people with ordinary stress and tension, as well as to patients with anxiety disorders.

This study by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California used physiological measures to document changes in respiration to examine the physiological and psychological effects of breathing instructions.

First, the details.

  • The immediate effects of short and simple breathing instruction were recorded in 13 people seeking treatment for panic disorder, 15 complaining of daily tension, and 15 controls.
  • During a 3-hour laboratory session the volunteers were told to breathe more slowly, or shallowly, or both.

And, the results

Following anti-hyperventilation instructions

  • They failed to raise the end-tidal pCO2 (a measure of the carbon dioxide in the lungs and by extension, in blood) for any of the groups because changes in respiratory rate were compensated for by changes in tidal volume (the amount of air breathed in or out during respiration) and vice versa.

Paying attention to breathing

  • This significantly reduced respiratory rate and decreased unstable tidal volume compared to other instructions.

Shallow breathing

  • This made all groups more anxious than other instructions.

In addition, heart rate and skin conductance (a measure of emotional arousal) were not affected by instructions.

The bottom line?
The authors concluded that attention to breathing increased respiratory stability. By comparison, simple and short instructions to alter breathing did not help people to relax their breathing.

9/20/07 19:49 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.