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Elizabeth Scott, M.S.

Relaxation Therapy And Stress

By January 7, 2013

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Most people know that relaxation can be an effective route to stress relief. In fact, the word "stress" (when used as a verb) may just be the opposite of the word "relax." So relaxation techniques like mediation are widely expected to work as stress management tools, and they do not disappoint. Many studies have shown the benefits of meditation for stress relief--you can read about some of them here--particularly as programs like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs offer a uniform protocol to follow, which makes it far easier to study the effects of mindfulness and meditation.

One thing that may come as a surprise is that meditation and other relaxation practices can offer so many other benefits for health and wellbeing. Many of these benefits come from the elimination of physical and emotional stress, though the effects of this change may still come as a surprise. Consider the following facts about relaxation:

  • Relaxation training can help with pain, such as the type of pain felt with arthritis. How does this work? A study by Alex Zautra found that those using either meditation or cognitive behavioral therapy for pain found an improvement in coping that was greater than was experienced by those who merely had education about pain. Relaxation therapy is helpful in reducing generalized stress, and this type of stress can exacerbate pain. Reduce the stress, and you can reduce the pain.
  • Another study compared long-term meditators (those who had practiced 10,000 hours or more in their lives) and non-meditators or novices who were practicing two types of meditation, and measured their experience of arthritis pain. The two types of meditation studied were open monitoring (OM), which involves passively observing one's thoughts and feelings from a detached place of awareness, and focused attention (FA), which involves fixating attention away from the stimulation. Researchers found that, compared to novices, long-term meditators experienced a reduction of unpleasantness, but not intensity, of pain when practicing OM, but neither group experienced a significant change when practicing FA. While it will take years to build up long-term meditator status as defined in this study, the comparison between regular meditators and novices makes the point that regular practice does bring cumulative benefits.
  • Relaxation therapy can help with health issues as diverse as skin disorders, sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, fatigue, PTSD, and more.
Another pleasant surprise is that it doesn't take much relaxation to have an effect. Some techniques, such as breathing exercises, start to bring measurable changes in just a minute or two. Other techniques, such as meditation, provide more benefits with more practice, though research shows that even one, twenty-minute session of either meditation training or relaxation training among novices brings reductions in cognitive, somatic, and general state anxiety. Not bad!

Relaxation Resources:

Bormann, Jill E.; Thorp, Steven R.; Wetherell, Julie L.; Golshan, Shahrokh; and Lang, Ariel J. (Mar. 2012). Meditation-based mantram intervention veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder: A randomized trial. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy.
Ehlers, Anke; Ulrich, Stangier; and Uwe, Gieler. (1995). Treatment of atopic dermatitis: A comparison of psychological and dermatological approaches to relapse prevention. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. (63), 4.
Freeman, L. W. (2009). Mosby's complementary and alternative medicine. (3 ed.). St. Louis, MO: Mosby.
Perlman, David M.; Salomons, Tim V.; Davidson, Richard J.; & Lutz, Antoine. (Feb. 2010). Differential effects on pain intensity and unpleasantness of two meditation practices. Emotion, Vol (10)1.
Rauch, Sarah M.; Gramling, Sandra E.; & Aurbach, Stephen M. (Aug. 2006). Effects of a single session of large-group meditation and progressive muscle relaxation training on stress reduction, reactivity and recovery. International Journal of Stress Management, Vol (3) 13, 270-290.
Zautra, Alex J.; Davis, Mary C.; Reich, John W.; Nicassario, Perry; Tennen, Howard; Finan, Patrick; Kratz, Anna; Parrish, Brendt; and Irwin, Michael R. (June 2008). Comparison between cognitive behavioral and mindfulness meditation interventions on adaptation to rheumatoid arthritis for patients with and without history of recurrent depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol (76)3, 408-421.
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