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Research on Relaxation

In the past 30 years, there has been considerable interest in the relaxation response and how inducing this state may benefit health. Research has focused primarily on illness and conditions in which stress may play a role either as the cause of the condition or as a factor that can make the condition worse.

Currently, research has examined relaxation techniques for:
  • Anxiety. Studies have suggested that relaxation may assist in the conventional treatment of phobias or panic disorder. Relaxation techniques have also been used to relieve anxiety for people in stressful situations, such as when undergoing a medical procedure. 
  • Asthma. Several reviews of the literature have suggested that relaxation techniques, including guided imagery, may temporarily help improve lung function and quality of life and relieve anxiety in people with asthma. A more recent randomized clinical trial of asthma found that relaxation techniques may help improve immune function. 
  • Depression. In 2008, a major review of the evidence that looked at relaxation for depression found that relaxation techniques were more effective than no treatment for depression, but not as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy. 
  • Fibromyalgia. Some preliminary studies report that using relaxation or guided imagery techniques may sometimes improve pain and reduce fatigue from fibromyalgia. 
  • Headache. There is some evidence that biofeedback and other relaxation techniques may help relieve tension or migraine headaches. In some cases, these mind and body techniques were more effective than medications for reducing the frequency, intensity, and severity of headaches. 
  • Heart disease and heart symptoms. Researchers have looked at relaxation techniques for angina and for preventing heart disease. When a cardiac rehabilitation program was combined with relaxation response training in a clinic, participants experienced significant reductions in blood pressure, decreases in lipid levels, and increases in psychological functioning when compared to participants’ status before the program. Some studies have shown that relaxation techniques combined with other lifestyle changes and standard medical care may reduce the risk of recurrent heart attack. 
  • High blood pressure. A 2008 review of evidence for relaxation for high blood pressure found some evidence that progressive muscle relaxation lowered blood pressure a small amount. However, the review found no evidence that this effect was enough to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, or other health issues due to high blood pressure. In a recent randomized controlled trial, 8 weeks of relaxation response/stress management was shown to reduce systolic blood pressure in hypertensive older adults, and some patients were able to reduce hypertension medication without an increase in blood pressure. 
  • Hot flashes. Relaxation exercises involving slow, controlled deep breathing may help relieve hot flashes associated with menopause. 
  • Insomnia. There is some evidence that relaxation techniques can help chronic insomnia. 
  • Irritable bowel syndrome. Some studies have indicated that relaxation techniques may prevent or relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in some participants. One review of the research found some evidence that self-hypnosis may be useful for IBS. 
  • Nausea. Relaxation techniques may help relieve nausea caused by chemotherapy. 
  • Nightmares. Relaxation exercises may be an effective approach for nightmares of unknown cause and those associated with posttraumatic stress disorder. 
  • Overactive bladder. Bladder re-training combined with relaxation and other exercises may help control urinary urgency. 
  • Pain. Some studies have shown that relaxation techniques may help reduce abdominal and surgery pain. 
  • Ringing in the ears. Use of relaxation exercises may help patients cope with the condition. 
  • Smoking cessation. Relaxation exercises may help reduce the desire to smoke. 
  • Temporomandibular disorder (pain and loss of motion in the jaw joints). A review of the literature found that relaxation techniques and biofeedback were more effective than placebo in decreasing pain and increasing jaw function.