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Investigation of an Ultra-Brief Breathing Technique for the Treatment of Physiological and Psychological Markers of Anxiety

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Relaxation therapies are an attractive intervention for decreasing anxiety-related symptoms as they can be self-administered with minimal training, support or financial cost. Self-regulation of breathing is a simple and accessible intervention with minimal empirical evidence to support long-term effects of a consistent practice. The ultra-brief 4-7-8 breathing technique is one method that has substantial anecdotal support and notoriety. Despite the growing popularity of brief breathing techniques, there have been few reported empirical investigations on the effects of the long-term practice of these ultra-brief interventions. This empirical investigation will serve as a proof of principle for if there is utility in regularly practicing ultra-brief breathing interventions for individuals experiencing ongoing stress and anxiety. University students (n=109) reporting mild-to-severe symptoms of trait anxiety were randomized into three groups: a waitlist control group (n=23), a group instructed to perform an ultra-brief breathing technique twice a day (n=46), and a group instructed to perform an ultra-brief counting technique twice a day (n=41). Self-reported trait anxiety was measured at three time points over eight weeks. Repeated Measures ANOVA's indicated that participants who performed the breathing technique a minimum of four times a week reported significantly decreased trait anxiety after eight weeks, but not after four weeks, compared to participants performing a counting exercise of identical duration. Differences were specific to trait cognitive anxiety, not trait somatic anxiety. There was a significant relationship between treatment adherence and treatment efficacy for individuals who performed the breathing technique, but not for the counting technique. There were no differences in resting-state physiological markers of stress and anxiety after four weeks. Overall, these findings support the regular daily practice of the 4-7-8 breathing technique as a clinically efficacious intervention for anxiety. Further dismantling studies are required to identify and apply the active ingredients of the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
122 pages.
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This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
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Thesis advisor: Ley, Robert
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