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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.
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.
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, in particular in studies with older adults. One study also found that relaxation therapy was better at reducing depression compared to receiving no treatment, in pregnant women with depression symptoms.
The studies show that relaxation therapy does not work as well for the treatment of depression psychological treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy. 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, 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.
Community groups often run relaxation classes. There are also therapists who teach relaxation, and you can buy books and audio giving instructions in relaxation therapy. You can also download our BluePages relaxation program (see below).
Relaxation therapy can be helpful for depression, but does not work as well as psychological treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy.
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: 27 November 2023