I am frequently asked about the evidence for relaxation training. The concept of relaxation training has been around for many years and much research is available in the scientific and medical literature to support and recommend its use, not only for insomnia, anxiety, stress and depression but also for chronic painful conditions.
According to Wikipedia:
A relaxation technique (also known as relaxation training) is any method, process, procedure, or activity that helps a person to relax; to attain a state of increased calmness; or otherwise reduce levels of anxiety, stress or anger. Relaxation techniques are often employed as one element of a wider stress management program and can decrease muscle tension, lower the blood pressure and slow heart and breath rates, among other health benefits.
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See what people at the Mayo Clinic have to say about relaxation techniques:
Watch the Mayo Clinic video: Mayo Clinic Video on Yoga for Relaxation
Peer reviewed medical and scientific literature is cited here for those who are skeptical and think of relaxation training as hocus-pocus:
J Psychiatr Pract. 2008 Nov;14(6):403-7.
Sleeping without a pill: nonpharmacologic treatments for insomnia.
UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine/Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Los Angeles, CA 90024, USA. email@example.com
Insomnia is a complaint of patients seen in many medical settings, but it is particularly prevalent in patients who present to mental health practitioners. When choosing an intervention for insomnia, physicians often turn to pharmacological management options as their primary strategy, with other modalities only considered secondarily, if at all. Medications for insomnia, which include benzodiazepines, nonbenzodiazepines, and antihistamines, have been found to have both varying degrees of efficacy as well as side-effect profiles that may limit their use. In recent years, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has studied nonpharmacologic interventions for insomnia and found evidence to support their use in achieving sustained improvements in sleep parameters over time. Methods such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, stimulus-control therapy, relaxation, paradoxical intention, and sleep restriction are efficacious treatments that mental health practitioners can consider in the treatment of insomnia. Researchers are only beginning to review evidence concerning complementary and alternative medicine therapies (CAM); however, given the preponderance of patients who may be employing these techniques for insomnia, it is important that clinicians be familiar with these approaches, which merit further study. This article reviews nonpharmacologic treatments for insomnia that are available to mental health practitioners as well as primary care providers, either via direct application of the techniques or by referral. The evidence for each of these modalities is presented in an effort to expand the treating physician's armamentarium beyond sole use of the medications traditionally used to treat insomnia.
J Psychiatr Res. 2012 Nov;46(11):1456-63. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2012.08.007. Epub 2012 Aug 30.
Comparison of relaxation training with a cognitive-behavioural intervention for indicated prevention of depression in university students: A randomized controlled trial.
Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychobiology, University of Santiago de Compostela, Campus Vida, 15782 Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Electronic address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although cognitive-behavioural programmes for preventing depression have produced promising findings, their administration requires extensive training. Relaxation techniques are more straightforward psychological strategies, but they have not been investigated in the prevention of depression. This trial aimed to compare the results of relaxation training (RT) with that of a cognitive-behavioural programme (CBT) for prevention of depression in university students with elevated depressive symptoms. The 133 participants (mean age 23.3 years, 82% women) were randomly assigned to CBT or RT. Both programmes were administered to groups of 5 or 6 participants in eight weekly 90-min sessions. Participants were evaluated by independent raters before, immediately after, and 3 and 6 months after taking part in the programmes. By itself, intervention type had no significant effect on either depression or anxiety scores. The scores were lower at the follow-up time points with respect to pre-intervention scores. Effect size was greatest between pre- and immediately post-intervention scores for CBT, d = 1.32, 95% CI [1.00, 1.64], and between pre- and 6-month post-intervention scores for RT, d = 0.75, 95% CI [0.47, 1.03]. Anxiety symptoms were significantly improved by both interventions at 3-month follow-up, and by CBT at 6-month follow-up also. In the medium term (3-6 months), relaxation training produced similar reductions in depressive and anxiety symptoms as a more complex cognitive-behavioural programme.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
[PubMed - in process]
Am J Health Promot. 2012 Jul-Aug;26(6):e149-58. doi: 10.4278/ajhp.110516-QUAL-199.
Psychological and physiological response of students to different types of stress management programs.
Cátedra de Química Analítica Instrumental, Facultad de Farmacia y Bioquímica, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina. email@example.com
To design, implement, and examine the psychoneuroendocrine responses of three different types of stress management programs.
Randomly assigned. A pre/post experimental design comparing variables between three different programs and a control group. The first program included training in deep breathing, relaxation response, meditation, and guided imagery techniques (RRGI). The second program included training in cognitive behavioral techniques (CB). The third program included both RRGI and CB (RRGICB).
The study was conducted at Buenos Aires University.
Participants (N = 52) were undergraduate students.
Anxiety, anger, hopelessness, neuroticism, respiration rate, and salivary cortisol levels were assessed.
Wilcoxon signed rank test was used to investigate differences in pre and post variables.
Subjects in the RRGI group showed significantly lower levels of anxiety (p < .011), anger (p < .012), neuroticism (p < .01), respiratory rate (p < .002), hopelessness (p < .01), and salivary cortisol (p < .002) after the treatment. Subjects in the CB group showed significantly lower levels of anxiety (p < .018), anger (p < .037), and neuroticism (p < .03) after the treatment. Subjects in the RRGICB group showed significantly lower levels of anxiety (p < .001), anger (p < .001), neuroticism (p < .008), hopelessness (p < .01), respiratory rate (p < .001), and salivary cortisol (p < .002) after the treatment. Subjects in the control group showed only one variable modification, a significant increase in cortisol levels (p < .004).
The combination of deep breathing, relaxation response, meditation, and guided imagery techniques with CB seems to be effective at helping people to deal with stress.
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Deep Relaxation Training at Sehatu Sleep, designed with sleep medicine and psychology principles, empowers people by giving them skills to turn the mind switch on and off on command and to relax when needed. Classes can be attended via Skype.
Sehatu Sleep and Yoga Studio, located in Granite Bay, CA, also provides a variety of Yoga classes, including Yin, Gentle and Restorative Yoga, as well as Meditation classes, for individuals who are interested in practicing a healthy lifestyle at any age, starting at any time in their life at any skill level.