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.
Condition and Condition Summary of Current Evidence
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.
Studies suggest that relaxation techniques may have modest benefit on symptoms of depression but are not as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy.
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.
Results of research on relaxation training and biofeedback for headaches suggest that these approaches may help relieve headaches and may be helpful for migraines.
Relaxation techniques have shown modest, short-term reductions in blood pressure; however, many of these studies were of poor quality.
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.
Although no complementary health approach has definitively been shown to be helpful for irritable bowel syndrome, some studies on hypnotherapy have been promising.
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.