Home | Audio | DIY | Guitar | iPods | Music | Brain/Problem Solving | Links| Site Map
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
What are relaxation techniques?
Our fast-paced society often causes people to push their minds and bodies to the limit, often at the expense of physical and mental well-being. According to the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard University, between 60 and 90 percent of all medical office visits in the United States are for stress-related disorders. Relaxation techniques are helpful tools for coping with stress and promoting long-term health by slowing down the body and quieting the mind. Such techniques generally entail: refocusing attention (by, for example, noticing areas of tension); increasing body awareness; and exercises (such as meditation) to connect the body and mind together. Used daily, these practices can over time lead to a healthier perspective on stressful circumstances.
What are the types of relaxation techniques?
There are three major types of relaxation techniques:
How do relaxation techniques work?
When we become stressed, our bodies engage in something called the "fight or flight response." The fight or flight response refers to changes that occur in the body when it prepares to either fight or run. These changes include increased heart rate, blood pressure, and rate of breathing, and a 300 to 400 percent increase in the amount of blood being pumped to the muscles. Over time, these reactions raise cholesterol levels, disturb intestinal activities, and depress the immune system. In general, they leave us feeling "stressed out."
However, we also possess the opposite of the fight or flight response—the "relaxation response." This term, first coined in the mid-1970s by a Harvard cardiologist named Herbert Benson, refers to changes that occur in the body when it is in a deep state of relaxation. These changes include decreased blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and rate of breathing, as well as feelings of being calm and in control. Learning the relaxation response helps to counter the ill effects of the fight or flight response and, over time, allow the development of a greater state of alertness. The relaxation response can be developed through a number of techniques, including meditation and progressive muscle relaxation. It is now a recommended treatment for many stress-related disorders.
What are relaxation techniques good for?
Research suggests that meditation can help improve a person's quality of life and reduce stress hormone levels.
Studies also show that relaxation techniques reduce the perception of pain. One study found that among patients undergoing colorectal surgery, those who listened to guided-imagery tapes before, during, and after the operation had less pain and needed fewer pain medications than those who did not.
Meditation has also been used as part of the treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in Vietnam veterans and to break substance abuse patterns in drug and alcohol abusers. Relaxation techniques can also enhance coping skills in migraine sufferers and reduce stress as well as improve mood in those with cancer.
In general, studies show that with consistent practice, relaxation techniques can potentially reduce symptoms or improve outcomes in the following conditions:
It is extremely important that usual medical care and advice by followed for these conditions as well. Relaxation techniques are meant to complement usual medical care.
Is there anything I should watch out for?
Relaxation techniques are considered to be very safe. There have been unusual cases where people become more, rather than less, anxious when using the techniques because of a heightened awareness of body sensations. Even more rare are reports of pain, heart palpitations, muscle twitching, and crying spells associated with the use of relaxation techniques. When this happens, it is often related to the process of relaxing and reflecting inward such that emotions become very poignant.
Experts advise people with schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis (thought disorders that distort reality) to avoid relaxation techniques.
Can I learn relaxation techniques by myself?
If you want to generally reduce stress and enhance well-being, you can teach yourself some relaxation techniques. Look for videotapes and audiobooks on popular techniques such as guided imagery and meditation, and check for community classes in your area. If you have a specific medical or psychological disorder or concern, however, it is best to see a healthcare professional, such as a clinical psychologist or social worker who teaches relaxation techniques as part of their therapeutic practice. He or she will help you decide what relaxation method is best for you.
Where can I find a qualified practitioner?
Numerous clinics and hospitals around the country have integrated relaxation techniques into various healthcare programs. To learn more about relaxation techniques and to locate healthcare facilities that include them as part of their practice, contact:
Annequin D, Tourniaire B, Massiou H. Migraine and headache in childhood and adolescence. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2000;47(3):617-631.
Baider L, Peretz T, Hadani PE, Koch U. Psychological intervention in cancer patients: a randomized study. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2001;23:272-277.
Barnes VA, Treiber FA, Turner JR, Davis H, Strong WB. Acute effects of transcendental meditation on hemodynamic functioning in middle-aged adults. Psychosom Med. 1999;61(4):525-531.
Baumgaertel A. Alternative and controversial treatments for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Pediatr Clin of North Am. 1999;46(5):977-992.
Calderon Jr. R, Schneider RH, Alexander CN, Myers HF, Nidich SI, Haney C. Stress, stress reduction and hypercholesterolemia in African Americans: a review. Ethn Dis. 1999;9:451-462.
Carlson LE, Ursuliak Z, Goddey E, Angen M, Speca M. The effects of mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction program on mood and symptoms of stress in cancer outpatients: 6-month follow-up. Support Care Cancer. 2001;9(2):112-123.
Castillo-Richmond A, Schneider RH, Alexander CN, et al. Effects of stress reduction on carotid atherosclerosis in hypertensive African Americans. Stroke. 2000;31:568-573.
deLeon D. The relaxation response in the treatment of chronic pain. In: Micozzi MS, Bacchus AN, eds. The Physician's Guide to Alternative Medicine. Atlanta, Ga: American Health Consultants; 1999:335-337.
Domar AD, Clapp D, Slawsby EA, Dusek J, Kessel B, Freizinger M. Impact of group psychological interventions on pregnancy rates in infertile women. Fertil Steril. 2000;73(4):805-811.
Ernst E. Complementary therapies in palliative cancer care. Cancer. 2001;91(11):2181-2185.
Hadhazy VA, Ezzo J, Creamer P, Berman BM. Mind-body therapies for the treatment of fibromyalgia. A systematic review. J Rheumatol. 2000;27:2911-2918.
Holroyd KA, O'Donnell FJ, Stensland M, Lipchik GL, Cordingley GE, Carlson BW. Management of chronic tension-type headache with tricyclic antidepressant medication, stress management therapy, and their combination: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2001;285:2208-2215.
Hoodin F, Brines BJ, Lake AE 3rd, Wilson J, Saper JR. Behavioral self-management in an inpatient headache treatment unit: increasing adherence and relationship to changes in affective distress. Headache. 2000;40(5):377-383.
Kabat-Zinn J. Full Catastrophe Living. New York, NY: Delacorte; 1990.
Kabat-Zinn J, Lipworth L, Burney R, Sellers W. Four-year follow-up of a meditation-based program for the self-regulation of chronic pain: treatment outcomes and compliance. Clin J Pain. 1987;2:159-173.
Kabat-Zinn J, Massion AO, Kristeller J, et al. Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Am J Psychiatry. 1992;149(7):936-943.
Kabat-Zinn J, Wheeler E, Light T, et al. Influence of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention on rates of skin clearing in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis undergoing phototherapy (UVB) and photochemotherapy (PUVA). Psychosom Med. 1998;60(5):625-632.
Keefer L, Blanchard EB. A one year follow-up of relaxation response meditation as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. Behav Res Ther. 2002 May;40(5):541-546.
Lazar SW. Functional brain mapping of the relaxation response and meditation. Neuroreport. 2000;11:1581-1585.
Leventhal LJ. Management of fibromyalgia. Ann Intern Med. 1999;131(11):850-858.
Lundgren S. Muscle relaxation training and quality of life in rheumatoid arthritis. Scand J Rheumatol. 1999;28:47-53.
McGrady A , Horner J. Role of mood in outcome of biofeedback assisted relaxation therapy in insulin dependent diabetes mellitus. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 1999;4:79-88.
McGrady A, Graham G, Bailey B. Biofeedback-assisted relaxation in insulin-dependent diabetes: a replication and extension study. Ann Behav Med. 1996;18:185-189.
Morin CM, Hauri PJ, Espie CA, Spielman AJ, Buysse DJ, Bootzin RR. Nonpharmacologic treatment of chronic insomnia. Sleep. 1999;22(8):1134-1156.
Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, Billings JH, et al. Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. JAMA. 1998;280(23):2001-2007.
Renzi C, Peticca L, Pescatori M. The use of relaxation techniques in the perioperative management of proctological patients: preliminary results. Int J Colorectal Dis. 2000;15(5-6):313-316.
Schneider RH, Nidich SI, Salerno JW. Lower lipid peroxide levels in practitioners of the Transcendental Meditation program. Psychosom Med. 1998;60(1):38-41.
Sultanoff BA, Zalaquett CP. Relaxation therapies. In: Novey DW, ed. Clinician's Complete Reference to Complementary and Alternative Medicine. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2000:114-129.
Van der Klink JJ, Blonk RW, Schene AH, van Dijk FJ. The benefits of interventions for work-related stress. Am J Pub Health. 2001;91:270-276.
Walker LG, Walker MB, Ogston K, et al. Psychological, clinical and pathological effects of relaxation training and guided imagery during primary chemotherapy. Br J Cancer. 1999;80:262-268.
Wichowski HC, Kubsch SM. Increasing diabetic self-care through guided imagery. Complement Ther Nurs Midwifery. 1999;5:159-163.
Home | Audio | DIY | Guitar | iPods | Music | Links | Brain and Problem Solving | Site Map | Contact