Clinical Applications of Relaxation Therapy
Relaxation techniques are effective in lowering heart rate and blood pressure, decreasing muscle tension, improving well-being, and reducing symptoms distress in people experiencing a variety of situations (e.g., complications from medical treatment or disease or grieving the lost of a significant other). The type of relaxation is intervention should be matched to the individual’s functional status, the energy expenditure of the relaxation technique, and the motivation of the individual for frequent practice.
Relaxation, alone or in combination with deep breathing, imagery, yoga, and music has been shown to reduce pain; improve chronic fatigue syndrome; control hypertension; improve preterm labor outcomes; contribute significantly to cancer palliative care; and increase survival following cardiac arrest. However, more well-controlled studies are needed to validate and support the effects of relaxation therapy. For example, other variable or activities that may also lead to reduced physiological activity and pain level should be controlled in studies to determine if an individual’s improved response is due to the relaxation therapy alone. Such variables may include a healthy support network, a positive attitude including humor, and other behavioral therapies such as yoga and tai chi.
Relaxation is a valuable technique because it enables individual to exert some control over their lives. They may experience a decreased feeling of helplessness and a more positive physiological state overall, which helps them to have less negative view of their situation.
Limitations of Relaxation Therapy
Individuals undergoing relaxation training have reported fearing loss of control, feeling like they are floating, and experiencing relaxation-induced anxiety related to these feelings. During relaxation training, individuals learn to differentiate between low and high levels or muscle tension. During the first months of training sessions, when the person is learning how to focus on body sensations and tensions, there are reports of increased sensitivity in detecting muscle tension. Usually, these feelings are minor and resolve as the person continues with the relaxation training. However, nurses must be aware that on occasion some relaxation techniques may result in continued intensification symptoms or the development of altogether new symptoms.
An important consideration when choosing the type of relaxation technique is the physiological and psychological status of the individual. Clients with advanced disease such as cancer may seek relaxation training to reduce their stress response. However, techniques such as active progressive relaxation training require a moderate expenditure of energy, which can amplify a person’s existing fatigue and limit the person’s ability to complete individual relaxation sessions and practice. Therefore, active progressive relaxation would not be appropriate for clients with advanced disease or those who have decreased energy reserves. Passive relaxation or guided imagery is more appropriate for these individuals.