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NCCIH Clinical Digest

for health professionals

Stress and Relaxation Techniques

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December 2014
Woman relaxing.

© Thinkstock

Relaxation techniques may be helpful in managing a variety of health conditions, including anxiety associated with illnesses or medical procedures, insomnia, labor pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and temporomandibular joint dysfunction. For some of these conditions, relaxation techniques are used as an adjunct to other forms of treatment. Relaxation techniques have also been studied for other conditions, but either they haven’t been shown to be useful, research results have been inconsistent, or the evidence is limited.

What the Science Says: 

Condition and Condition Summary of Current Evidence

Anxiety

Studies have shown relaxation techniques may reduce anxiety in people with ongoing health problems such as heart disease or inflammatory bowel disease, and in those who are having medical procedures such as breast biopsies or dental treatment. Relaxation techniques have also been shown to be useful for older adults with anxiety.

Read more about the efficacy of relaxation techniques for anxiety

Depression

Studies suggest that relaxation techniques may have modest benefit on symptoms of depression but are not as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy.

Read more about the efficacy of relaxation techniques for depression

Fibromyalgia

In general, research on complementary health approaches for fibromyalgia must be regarded as preliminary. Studies of guided imagery for fibromyalgia have had inconsistent results, while studies of other relaxation techniques have shown modest improvements in pain, but only in the short term.

Read more about the efficacy of relaxation techniques for fibromyalgia

Headache

Results of research on relaxation training and biofeedback for headaches suggest that these approaches may help relieve headaches and may be helpful for migraines.

Read more about the efficacy of relaxation techniques for headache

High Blood Pressure

Relaxation techniques have shown modest, short-term reductions in blood pressure; however, many of these studies were of poor quality.

Read more about the efficacy of relaxation techniques for high blood pressure

Insomnia

Evidence suggests that using relaxation techniques before bedtime can be helpful components of a successful strategy to improve sleep habits. Other components include maintaining a consistent sleep schedule; avoiding caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals, and strenuous exercise too close to bedtime; and sleeping in a quiet, cool, dark room.

Read more about the efficacy of relaxation techniques for insomnia

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Although no complementary health approach has definitively been shown to be helpful for irritable bowel syndrome, some studies on hypnotherapy have been promising.

Read more about the efficacy of relaxation techniques for irritable bowel syndrome

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Relaxation techniques may provide some benefit on symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including sleep disturbance, anger, pain, and hyper-arousal.

Clinical practice guidelines on the management of post-traumatic stress issued in 2010 by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense indicate that relaxation techniques be considered as a component of treatment approaches for acute stress disorder or PTSD in alleviating symptoms associated with physiological hyper-reactivity.

Read more about the efficacy of relaxation techniques for PTSD

Scientific Literature

NCCIH Clinical Digest is a service of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, NIH, DHHS. NCCIH Clinical Digest, a monthly e-newsletter, offers evidence-based information on complementary health approaches, including scientific literature searches, summaries of NCCIH-funded research, fact sheets for patients, and more.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is dedicated to exploring complementary health products and practices in the context of rigorous science, training complementary health researchers, and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals. For additional information, call NCCIH's Clearinghouse toll-free at 1-888-644-6226, or visit the NCCIH Web site at nccih.nih.gov. NCCIH is 1 of 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health, the Federal focal point for medical research in the United States.

Copyright

Content is in the public domain and may be reprinted, except if marked as copyrighted (©). Please credit the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health as the source. All copyrighted material is the property of its respective owners and may not be reprinted without their permission.

This page last modified November 20, 2015