Effect of breathwork on stress and mental health: a meta-analysis of randomised-controlled trials

Fincham, Guy, Montero-Marin, Jesus, Strauss, Clara and Cavanagh, Kate (2023) Effect of breathwork on stress and mental health: a meta-analysis of randomised-controlled trials. Scientific Reports, 13. e432 1-14. ISSN 2045-2322

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Deliberate control of the breath (breathwork) has recently received an unprecedented surge in public interest and breathing techniques have therapeutic potential to improve mental health. Our meta-analysis primarily aimed to evaluate the efficacy of breathwork through examining whether, and to what extent, breathwork interventions were associated with lower levels of self-reported/subjective stress compared to non-breathwork controls. We searched PsycInfo, PubMed, ProQuest, Scopus, Web of Science, ClinicalTrials.gov and ISRCTN up to February 2022, initially identifying 1325 results. The primary outcome self-reported/subjective stress included 12 randomised-controlled trials (k = 12) with a total of 785 adult participants. Most studies were deemed as being at moderate risk of bias. The random-effects analysis yielded a significant small-to-medium mean effect size, g = − 0.35 [95% CI − 0.55, − 0.14], z = 3.32, p = 0.0009, showing breathwork was associated with lower levels of stress than control conditions. Heterogeneity was intermediate and approaching significance, χ211 = 19, p = 0.06, I2 = 42%. Meta-analyses for secondary outcomes of self-reported/subjective anxiety (k = 20) and depressive symptoms (k = 18) showed similar significant effect sizes: g = − 0.32, p < 0.0001, and g = − 0.40, p < 0.0001, respectively. Heterogeneity was moderate and significant for both. Overall, results showed that breathwork may be effective for improving stress and mental health. However, we urge caution and advocate for nuanced research approaches with low risk-of-bias study designs to avoid a miscalibration between hype and evidence.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Psychology > Psychology
SWORD Depositor: Mx Elements Account
Depositing User: Mx Elements Account
Date Deposited: 10 Jan 2023 11:35
Last Modified: 10 Jan 2023 11:45
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/110061

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