Anxiety could be eased by hugging a pillow that mimics breathing

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Prototype pillow contains an inflatable chamber that connects to an external pump and motor, enabling it to expand and deflate like human lungs



Health



9 March 2022

A huggable pillow that mimics breathing has reduced anxiety as effectively as guided meditation for people who were about to take a mathematics test.

Interactive tactile devices, such as Paro the cuddly seal robot, have previously been linked to reduced anxiety, potentially providing near-immediate relief without medication. To better understand the potential of these devices, Alice Haynes, now at Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany, and her colleagues developed a pillow prototype that expands and deflates like human lungs.

The team got a group of 129 volunteers to complete a questionnaire that measured their anxiety level before and after they were told they would need to complete a maths test.

Next, 45 of the volunteers hugged the prototype pillow across their chest and torso for just over 8 minutes, while 40 of the participants listened to a guided meditation and the remaining 44 volunteers sat and did nothing, acting as the experiment’s control group. The volunteers’ anxiety was then measured again.

Hugging the pillow was found to reduce pre-test anxiety by the same amount as the meditation, while the control group’s anxiety increased ahead of the test.

“I think ultimately, it’s just nice to give people with anxiety a choice of different ways to support themselves,” says Haynes. “A benefit of the cushion is that we haven’t had to give anyone guidance on using it – it seems to be very intuitive. It’s familiar and you don’t have to use an app or be on your phone or any of your devices.”

The pillow, which is 36 centimetres long, contains an inflatable chamber that connects to an external pump and motor.

Most of the volunteers adapted their breathing to match the pillow’s expansion, according to Haynes. “Slow breathing practices in general activate the part of the nervous system which is associated with rest and digest,” she says.

Journal reference: PLOS ONE, DOI: doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0259838

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