What is it?
Relaxation therapy is a behavioral therapy used to relieve psychological stress and fatigue. It can be guided by a therapist or trainer or practiced alone.
A variety of methods are used in relaxation therapy, and it is often combined with other practices, including guided imagery and biofeedback. Relaxation can be achieved using methods including imagery, breathing exercises, focused muscle tensing and relaxing, and others.
Relaxation therapy is used for stress, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support many of these uses.
Possibly Effective for …
- Anxiety. Relaxation therapy helps with some types of anxiety. It seems to help people with panic disorders, and situational anxiety. But it might not work as well as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or meditation.
- Depression. Relaxation therapy seems to reduce symptoms of depression in some people. But it doesn’t seem to work as well as other psychological treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
- A type of persistent anxiety marked by exaggerated worry and tension (generalized anxiety disorder or GAD). Relaxation therapy seems to reduce symptoms of GAD and seems to be as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
- High blood pressure. Relaxation therapy seems to reduce blood pressure by a small amount in people with high blood pressure.
Insufficient Evidence to Make a Determination for …
- Chest pain (angina). Relaxation therapy seems to reduce how often people with this condition have chest pain. It also improves their ability to exercise. Relaxation therapy also seems to improve quality of life in women with a specific type of chest pain called cardiac syndrome X.
- Asthma. Early research shows that relaxation therapy can improve some asthma measures. For example using relaxation therapy seems to reduce the use of rescue inhalers. Relaxation therapy seems to be most helpful when used in addition to standard treatment.
- Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Early research shows that relaxation therapy doesn’t work as well as massage for improving hyperactivity and mood in teenagers with ADHD.
- Tiredness in people with cancer. Early research shows that using relaxation therapy, sleep hygiene, stimulus control, and sleep restriction improves tiredness, but not sleep quality, in women receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Early research shows that relaxation therapy might improve symptoms in people with CFS. But it doesn’t seem to work as well as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
- A lung disease that makes it harder to breathe (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD). Early research shows that relaxation therapy improves difficulty breathing, anxiety, and airway blockage in people with COPD. Other early research shows that relaxation therapy is beneficial for COPD when used with training on exercise, nutrition, and smoking cessation.
- Seizure disorder (epilepsy). Early research shows that relaxation therapy does not reduce how often people with epilepsy have seizures.
- Fibromyalgia. Early research shows that relaxation therapy in combination with other therapies might reduce pain and tender points in people with fibromyalgia.
- Headache. Most research shows that relaxation therapy improves headache pain and reduces how often headaches happen in children and adults. But many of the studies are flawed.
- HIV/AIDS. Early research shows that massage, but not relaxation therapy, improves anxiety and depression in in adolescents with HIV.
- A long-term disorder of the large intestines that causes stomach pain (irritable bowel syndrome or IBS). Early research shows that adding relaxation therapy to standard care does not improve IBS symptoms.
- Labor pain. Early research shows that relaxation therapy improves low back pain in the short-term but it doesn’t work as well as a massage.
- Low back pain. Early research shows that relaxation therapy improves low back pain in the short-term but it doesn’t work as well as a massage.
- An inner ear disorder marked by dizziness, hearing loss, and ringing in the ear (Meniere disease). Early research shows that relaxation therapy does not improve hearing in people with Meniere disease.
- Symptoms of menopause. Early research shows that relaxation therapy can improve hot flashes, anxiety, depression, and sexual dysfunction in post-menopausal women.
- Heart attack. Some early research shows that relaxation therapy can improve anxiety and well-being, and reduces the chance of other heart-related problems in people after heart attack. But other research shows that relaxation therapy does not decrease the chance of heart death and another heart attack.
- Pain after surgery. Early research shows that practicing relaxation techniques reduces pain after abdominal surgery.
- Depression after childbirth (postpartum depression). Early research shows that using relaxation, music, massage, and mother-infant interaction coaching improves depression after childbirth.
- A type of anxiety that often develops after a terrifying event (post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD). Some research shows that relaxation therapy can reduce feelings of anger and guilt in people with PTSD.
- High blood pressure during pregnancy. Early research shows that relaxation therapy lowers blood pressure and reduces admissions to the hospital in pregnant women with high blood pressure.
- Severe PMS symptoms (premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD). Early research shows that relaxation therapy does not improve physical or emotional symptoms of PMDD.
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Early research shows that relaxation therapy improves physical symptoms of PMS.
- Anxiety before surgery. Early research shows that relaxation therapy does not reduce anxiety in women being tested for breast cancer (breast-core needle biopsy) when compared with using anti-anxiety medication.
- Preterm birth. Early research shows that relaxation therapy reduces anxiety in pregnant women. But it does not reduce the chance of early birth or increase the weight of preterm infants.
- Feelings of well-being. Early research shows that relaxation therapy does not improve anxiety or hostility in aggressive adolescents.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Early research shows that relaxation therapy doesn’t improve most symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Other early research shows that massage is better than relaxation therapy for improving pain, anxiety, and stress in children with juvenile RA.
- A type of anxiety marked by fear in some or all social settings (social anxiety disorder). There is some evidence that relaxation therapy works better for social anxiety disorder than no treatment. But it doesn’t seem to work as well as cognitive therapy or task concentration training.
- An autoimmune disease that causes widespread swelling (systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE). Early research shows that graded exercise therapy is better than relaxation therapy for improving fatigue in people with SLE.
- A group of painful conditions that affect the jaw joint and muscle (temporomandibular disorders or TMD). Early research shows that relaxation therapy might improve maximum pain and jaw opening in people with TMD. But relaxation therapy is not better than using mouth-guards for reducing pain.
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus). Early research shows that relaxation therapy does not reduce distress caused by ringing in the ears. It also doesn’t seem to prevent ringing in the ears from interfering with daily activities.
- Tourette syndrome. Early research shows that relaxation therapy does not improve tics or behaviors compared to quiet time and awareness training in people with Tourette syndrome.
- Hives (urticaria). Early research shows that hypnosis with relaxation therapy improves itching in people with chronic itching.
- Cancer treatment side effects.
- Heart disease.
- Metabolic syndrome.
- Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of relaxation therapy for these uses.
Special Precautions & Warnings:
Pregnancy: Relaxation therapy is LIKELY SAFE and has been used in several clinical trials in pregnant women with no reported adverse effects.
Breast-feeding: More information is needed to determine whether it’s safe to use relaxation therapy during breast-feeding. But so far there’s no reason to believe that it might be harmful in women who are breast-feeding.
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