Relaxation therapy refers to a number of techniques designed to teach someone to be able to relax voluntarily. Programs most often include training in special breathing and progressive muscle relaxation exercises designed to reduce physical and mental tension. Massage, watching relaxing videos or listening to special music for relaxation do not constitute relaxation therapy, although they are sometimes included as part of a relaxation therapy program.
Muscle tension is usually associated with stress and anxiety, which are strongly associated with depression. Becoming aware of the link between depressive thoughts and mental and muscle tension may help.
There have been a number of randomised controlled trials on the effect of relaxation therapy for people with depression. In general, it works better than no treatment but not as well as psychological treatments such as CBT. The longer-term effects of relaxation therapy are uncertain.
Relaxation therapy is not for everyone. Some people who are very depressed or anxious or who have other types of mental health problems find that relaxation doesn’t help. It might even make them feel worse. Please check with your doctor before trying relaxation therapy.
Community groups often run relaxation classes. There are also therapists who teach relaxation. These are listed in the Relaxation Therapy section of the Yellow Pages. Books and tapes giving instructions in relaxation therapy are available from bookshops and over the internet. You can also download our BluePages relaxation program (see below).
Relaxation therapy is helpful for depression, but does not work as well as psychological treatments.
WARNING. Relaxation therapy is not for everyone. Some people who are very depressed or anxious or who have other types of mental health problems find that relaxation doesn't help. It might even make them feel worse. Please check with your doctor before trying relaxation therapy.
Before you begin, make sure you are not hungry or thirsty and that you haven't been drinking alcohol. Do not listen to this recording in places where you must concentrate for safety reasons (such as when driving a car). Find a place where you won't be disturbed, where you can lower the lights and let your mind relax. It is best to do the exercise sitting rather than lying down. There are periods of quietness on this recording and you will know that the tape is about to finish when you hear "Open your eyes". If at any time you feel that the exercise doesn't suit you, just open your eyes and turn off the recording.
Last reviewed and updated: 1 December 2016