Remember that time you felt scared or anxious but had no one to talk to? That time you curled on your bed or sofa, held your pillow close to your chest, and just allowed yourself to live in the moment of anxiety. We have all had that moment. These little moments prove that our pillow is not just an object we lay our heads on so we can have a good night’s sleep, but also a friend we can count on when we are panicked, insecure, or anxious.

Breathing Pillow

Breathing Pillow. Image Courtesy of Haynes et al., PLOS ONE

It has been proven that cuddling a pillow causes our body to release oxytocin, a hormone that relieves stress, calms down the nervous system, and warms the body.

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Findings published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by a group of researchers led by roboticist Alice Haynes, on March 9, 2022, describe a pillow that is not just soft but also mimics human breathing.

The breathing pillow, how it works

The pillow was constructed in a way that touching it felt like touching a pet or another human. The pillow had a soft microfiber outer covering, a polyester stuffing, and an air bladder in the middle. The air-bladder was connected to an external pump or motor that rhythmically inflated and deflated it, mimicking the movement of the lungs. The pump handle was placed at a position where it was not noticeable by the user and the movement of the air-bladder was also noiseless.

Achievements so far

To test the effectiveness of the pillow, 129 volunteers were chosen at random and asked to complete a questionnaire that measured their anxiety level before and after they were told they would need to complete a maths test.

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Next, 45 of the volunteers hugged the prototype pillow across their chest and torso for 8 minutes, while 40 of the participants listened to a guided meditation and the remaining volunteers neither hugged the pillow nor listened to a meditation.

A post-test questionnaire revealed that volunteers who hugged the pillow before the quiz showed less anxiousness before and during the quiz.

These findings prove that the breathing pillow could be used to reduce anxiety, for example in a student before a quiz.

There are also plans to test the device on people in their homes, as well as monitor people’s physiological response, such as breathing patterns and heart rate to the device in other to understand clearly how this device eases anxiety.

The authors add: “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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The breathing cushion provides a natural and inexpensive treatment of anxiety and has been proven to be effective. When made available, it will go a long way to relieve stress, anxiety, and tension among users.


A calming hug: Design and validation of a tactile aid to ease anxiety

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