How slow-paced breathing helps reduce panic disorder symptoms

November 24th, 2021,

3 min read

How slow-paced breathing helps reduce panic disorder symptomsfeatured image

When you breathe slowly, your nervous system calms down. You can feel the changes happening in your body, but how can this be explained? What does science say about the effects of slow breathing? Our postdoctoral researcher at moonbird, Elisabeth Honinx, assembles the most interesting studies on breathing.

Slow breathing helps people with panic disorder

The study Elisabeth looked at this time, focuses on the effect of heart rate variability (HRV)  biofeedback with 0.1 Hz breathing on HRV and symptoms of people with a panic disorder.

What is 0.1 Hz breathing?

Right now, you probably breathe around 12 to 15 breaths per minute, which is a normal breathing rate for most adults. Breathing at 0.1 Hz frequency is a common form of slow, deep breathing and works out to be about half that much: approximately six breaths per minute.

At this frequency, your heart rate and breathing rate eventually sync up, which helps your body produce your highest HRV levels.

What is heart rate variability (HRV)?

Heart rate variability is literally the variance in time between the beats of your heart. You might think that if your heart rate is 60 beats per minute, it's beating once every second. But your heart doesn’t beat like a metronome. Within that minute there may be 0.9 seconds between two beats, for example, and 1.15 seconds between two others.

This variation is controlled by your autonomic nervous system. It’s subdivided into two large components, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the fight-or-flight mechanism and the relaxation response. If your system is in more of a fight-or-flight mode, the variation between subsequent heartbeats is low. If one is in a more relaxed state, the variation between beats is high.

In other words, the healthier your nervous system, the higher your HRV, the faster you are able to switch gears, showing more resilience and flexibility.

How was the research conducted?

A randomized controlled trial was conducted to investigate the effect of a four-week HRV biofeedback intervention in individuals with a panic disorder.

Thirty-six women and sixteen men with a panic disorder (with an average age of 36) were randomly allocated either to a HRV biofeedback with 0.1 Hz breathing group (around 6 breaths per minute) or to the control group. The exercises were performed over four weeks. HRV was measured both at rest and during a paced breathing condition before and after the breathing intervention.

Conclusion: slow breathing increases HRV and reduces panic symptoms

The intervention with 0.1 Hz breathing increased overall HRV and reduced panic symptoms. Also, in the long run, it increased HRV at rest, decreased heart rate during the paced breathing condition, and reduced scores on the Panic & Agoraphobia Scale. These effects were not found in the control group.

HRV biofeedback as a non-invasive and non-pharmacological treatment appears to be an important option to improve reduced HRV and decrease panic symptoms in individuals with a panic disorder.

Practice slow-paced breathing at home?

With moonbird, slow-paced breathing can be done anytime and everywhere you want to. Our smart breathing device is specifically designed to help you breathe in a steady, slow rhythm. In the app, you can select different breathing exercises that will guide you at a slow pace that will help maximize your HRV and make you feel as calm as possible. The app also monitors your heart rate, coherence, and HRV, so you can see the calming effects that breathing exercises have on your body in real-time. Click here to find out more: how moonbird works.

Source: Herhaus B, Siepmann M, Kahaly GJ, Conrad R, Petrowski K. Effect of a biofeedback intervention on heart rate variability in individuals with panic disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Psychosom Med. 2021 Oct 12. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000001031. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34654028.

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