Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback (2016) 41:141–150 DOI 10.1007/s10484-015-9319-4

Effects of Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback on EEG Alpha Asymmetry and Anxiety Symptoms in Male Athletes: A Pilot Study

Inga Dziembowska1,2 • Paweł Izdebski2 • Anna Rasmus2 • Janina Brudny2,3 • Marta Grzelczak4 • Piotr Cysewski5

Abstract 

Heart rate variability biofeedback (HRV-BFB) has been shown as useful tool to manage stress in various populations. The present study was designed to investigate whether the biofeedback-based stress management tool consisting of rhythmic breathing, actively self-generated positive emotions and a portable biofeedback device induce changes in athletes’ HRV, EEG patterns, and self- reported anxiety and self-esteem. The study involved 41 healthy male athletes, aged 16–21 (mean 18.34 ± 1.36) years. Participants were randomly divided into two groups: biofeedback and control. Athletes in the biofeedback group received HRV biofeedback training, athletes in the control group didn’t receive any intervention. During the ran- domized controlled trial (days 0–21), the mean anxiety score declined significantly for the intervention group (change-4 p \ 0.001) but not for the control group (p = 0.817). In addition, as compared to the control, athletes in biofeedback group showed substantial and sta- tistically significant improvement in heart rate variability indices and changes in power spectra of both theta and alpha brain waves, and alpha asymmetry. These changes suggest better self-control in the central nervous system and better flexibility of the autonomic nervous system in the group that received biofeedback training. A HRV biofeedback-based stress management tool may be bene- ficial for stress reduction for young male athletes.