A novel cushion-like device shows promise in reducing anxiety

A novel cushion-like device shows promise in reducing anxiety
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Researchers have developed a huggable, cushion-like device that could help in reducing anxiety for stressed students.

Anxiety is a feeling of stress, panic or fear that can affect everyday life. They are the ninth leading cause of global disability; therefore, finding new therapies to address this condition is vital. Common treatments for anxiety disorders include therapy and medication; however, these methods can prove to be costly and possess unwanted side effects that could negatively impact day-to-day life further.

At-home anxiety aids could complement therapies for anxiety disorders and benefit individuals experiencing temporary anxiety. Within this category, a small but growing body of research highlights that touch-based devices, such as TouchPoints wearables, could work as a method in reducing anxiety. The tactile sense area is relatively under-explored but has huge potential in developing how anxiety and other mental health conditions are treated.

The team developed a novel device that mechanically simulates breathing and preliminary evidence suggests it could help reduce students’ pre-test anxiety. The device could transform how individuals ease anxiety symptoms through an accessible, comfortable, and non-pharmacological device that can be used at home.

The University of Bristol team presented their findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Developing a new touch-based device for reducing anxiety

Alice Haynes of the University of Bristol and colleagues have developed a new, touch-based device that could ease anxiety. The team began by building several prototype devices that simulated different sensations, such as breathing, purring, and a heartbeat. Each prototype took the form of a soft, huggable cushion to appear inviting to the users when reducing anxiety symptoms. A focus group tested the “breathing” device and noted it as being the most pleasant and calming, so the researchers further developed it into a larger, mechanical cushion.

To test the new device, the research team recruited 129 volunteers for an experiment involving a group mathematics test. They employed pre-and post-test questionnaires, finding that students using the breathing device were less anxious pre-test than those who did not. The experiment also compared the breathing cushion to a guided meditation and found that both were equally effective at reducing anxiety.

Positive results from the study

These findings suggested that the breathing cushion could be used for reducing anxiety symptoms, for example, for students anticipating exams. The researchers are looking to the future with the hope to further refine the cushion for testing in people’s homes. They also are planning to investigate people’s physiological responses to the device such as the changes in heart rate or breathing patterns in order to clarify the particular mechanisms by which the device might by reducing anxiety.

The authors added: “We were excited to find that holding the breathing cushion, without any guidance, produced a similar effect on anxiety in students as a meditation practice. This ability of the device to be used intuitively opens it up to providing wider audiences with accessible anxiety relief.”

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