Relaxation Therapy

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What is it?

Relaxation therapy refers to a number of techniques designed to teach someone to be able to relax voluntarily. These techniques can include special breathing practices and progressive muscle relaxation exercises, which are designed to reduce physical and mental tension.

There are a number of other activities that can promote relaxation, including massage, listening to music, yoga and meditation.

How does it work?

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, and learning to voluntarily let go of this tension, may help to reduce depression symptoms.

Is it effective?

There have been a number of randomised controlled trials on the effect of relaxation therapy for people with depression. In general, these studies have found that relaxation therapy works better than no treatment, but not as well as psychological treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy. The longer-term effects of relaxation therapy are uncertain.

Are there any disadvantages?

Relaxation therapy is not for everyone. Some people who are very depressed or anxious, or who have other types of mental health problems, can find that relaxation doesn’t help. It might even make them feel worse. It's best to check with your doctor before trying relaxation therapy.

Where do you get it?

Community groups often run relaxation classes. There are also therapists who teach relaxation, who can be found in the Relaxation Therapy section of the Yellow Pages. Books and audio files giving instructions in relaxation therapy are available from bookshops and online. You can also download our BluePages relaxation program (see below).

Recommendation

Relaxation therapy can be helpful for depression, but does not work as well as psychological treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy.

Key references

  • Jorm AF, Morgan AJ, Hetrick SE. Relaxation for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2008(4).
  • Shinohara K, Honyashiki M, Imai H, Hunot V, Caldwell DM, Davies P, et al. Behavioural therapies versus other psychological therapies for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2013(10).

Relaxation mp3: Progressive muscle relaxation

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.

Download progressive muscle relaxation (mp3, 17.7MB)

Last reviewed and updated: 1 November 2019