Scientists in England say they’ve found a new way to relieve anxiety. They’ve developed a pillow that breathes when you hug it.

When it comes to stressful situations, taking college exams ranks right up there. So, the University of Bristol was the perfect setting for British researchers to test the new anti-anxiety device. “What we got them to do was a maths test. So, we had them do some sequencing of numbers, some of which were impossible, so we really ramped up the level of anxiety,” says Dr. Christopher Kent, an associate professor at the University of Bristol.

Researchers tested more than 100 students, giving a third of them the “breathing cushion” to hug before the exam. Its hidden inflatable pouch simulates slow breathing. “That reduced their pre-test anxiety. So, they still got anxious, but they got less anxious than if we gave them no intervention whatsoever,” Dr. Kent says.

Based on questionnaires, researchers found anxiety scores for cushion-hugging students were similar to those who meditated.

“It just has a lovely, intuitive, simple feel to it,” says textile designer Annie Lywood. She helped create the calming cushion and says dementia patients also find it comforting. “Made them smile, which was lovely, and they didn’t want to let go of the cushion,” she says.

“And they all said, ‘Oh, I remember when my child was this size,'” Dr. Kent says.

Testing is still in the early stages and the pillow hasn’t been tried on patients with diagnosed anxiety disorders. But researchers are hopeful. “We can use therapies, we can use pharmaceutical interventions, but they take time and they cost money, whereas a cushion it’s just something people intuitively interact with,” Dr. Kent says.

Researchers hope to get the breathing cushion into stores within a year and believe hospitals and care homes will also find it useful.