Relaxation techniques refocus your attention on something calming and increase awareness of your body, often bringing your attention to your breathing, muscles, or other body functions to relax and calm them.

How can relaxation techniques help me? What the research says

We summarize the clinical evidence for each medical benefit here. We begin with our assessment of the strength of evidence within each category, followed by a brief summary of individual studies or reviews of several studies. In assessing the strength of evidence, we consider the study design, number of participants, and the size of the treatment effect (how much outcomes changed with treatment).

Learn more about how we research and rate therapies.

Optimizing your body terrain

Do relaxation techniques promote an environment within your body that is less supportive of cancer development, growth, or spread? We present the evidence.

Immune function

Modest evidencesignificant effects in at least three small but well-designed randomized controlled trials (RCTs), or one or more well-designed, mid-sized clinical studies of reasonably good quality (RCTs or observational studies), or several small studies aggregated into a meta-analysis (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better markers of immune function among people participating in relaxation training, sometimes with guided imagery

Managing side effects and promoting wellness

Are relaxation techniques linked to fewer or less severe side effects or symptoms? Are they linked to less toxicity from cancer treatment? Do they support your quality of life or promote general well-being? We present the evidence.

Anxiety

Modest evidencesignificant effects in at least three small but well-designed randomized controlled trials (RCTs), or one or more well-designed, mid-sized clinical studies of reasonably good quality (RCTs or observational studies), or several small studies aggregated into a meta-analysis (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of lower anxiety without regard to treatment stage among people with cancer participating in relaxation training, often with other mind-body therapies

Modest evidence of less anxiety during chemotherapy among people treated with relaxation, sometimes also with guided imagery

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence of an effect (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of less anxiety during or soon after radiotherapy among people treated with relaxation, sometimes also with guided imagery

Modest evidence of less anxiety soon after surgery among people with cancer treated with relaxation, sometimes with other complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocialtherapy, and acupuncture therapies

Weak evidenceone or more case studies, supported by animal evidence OR small treatment effects of limited clinical significance OR studies with no controls OR weak trends of effects (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of less anxiety among hospitalized children with cancer treated with relaxation and guided imagery

Preliminary evidence of less anxiety among parents of hospitalized children with cancer treated with relaxation and guided imagery

Preliminary evidence of less anxiety among people with cancer in hospice with interactive guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation

Breathlessness

Preliminary evidence of less breathlessness among people with lung cancer treated with progressive muscle relaxation

Depression or mood

Modest evidence of less depression among people with cancer treated with relaxation training, sometimes with other mind-body therapies without regard to treatment phase

Modest evidence of less depression during chemotherapy among people treated with relaxation, sometimes also with guided imagery

Preliminary evidence of less depression during radiotherapy among people with cancer treated with relaxation, sometimes also with another mind-body therapy

Preliminary evidence of less sadness among parents of hospitalized children treated with progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery

Preliminary evidence of less depression among people with terminal cancer in hospice treated with interactive guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation

Fatigue

Modest evidence of less fatigue during chemotherapy among people treated with relaxation, sometimes also with guided imagery

Preliminary evidence of somewhat less fatigue during palliative radiotherapy among people with lung cancer treated with progressive muscle relaxation

Modest evidence of less fatigue after surgery or stem cell transplant among people with cancer treated with relaxation, sometimes with other complementary therapies

Gastrointestinal symptoms

Modest evidence of less nausea during cancer treatment among people treated with relaxation, often with other complementary therapies

Oral symptoms

Preliminary evidence of less pain from oral mucositisinflammation and ulceration of the mucous membranes lining the digestive tract, usually as an adverse effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment for cancer during bone marrow transplants among people with cancer treated with relaxation and imagery

Pain

Good evidencesignificant effects in one large or several mid-sized and well-designed clinical studies (randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with an appropriate placebo or other strong comparison control or observational studies that control for confounds) (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of less pain without regard to treatment phase among people with breast cancer treated with relaxation-based intervention

Modest evidence of less pain during cancer treatment as a whole among people treated with relaxation training

Modest evidence of less pain during chemotherapy among people treated with progressive muscle relaxation, sometimes also with guided imagery

Preliminary evidence of less body discomfort during brachytherapy among people with gynecologic or breast cancer treated with relaxation and guided imagery

Preliminary evidence of less pain during initial surgery among people with breast cancer using a self-care toolkit of complementary therapies including relaxation

No evidence of an effectoverall, one or more studies did not demonstrate that a treatment or intervention led to an expected outcome; this does not always mean that there is no effect in clinical practice, but that the studies may have been underpowered (too few participants) or poorly designed. Larger, well-designed studies provide more confidence in making assessments. on pain after conventional resection of colorectal carcinoma among elderly people treated with relaxation in a preliminary study

Modest evidence of less aromatase inhibitor-associated joint pain among postmenopausal women with non-metastatic breast cancer treated with relaxation techniques

Preliminary evidence of less pain among hospitalized people with cancer treated with relaxation

Preliminary evidence of less pain among people with terminal cancer in hospice treated with interactive guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation

Quality of life, function, and well-being

Preliminary evidence of better self-efficacy and quality of life without regard to treatment phase among people with cancer treated with relaxation, sometimes with other mind-body therapies

Preliminary evidence of less illness-related social disruption without regard to treatment phase among women with breast cancer treated with relaxation

Preliminary (conflicting) evidence of better quality of life and function during chemotherapy among people treated with relaxation, often with other complementary therapies

Modest evidence of better quality of life after surgery among people with cancer treated with relaxation, sometimes with other mind-body therapies

Sexual difficulties

Preliminary evidence of better body image among women with breast or gynecologic cancer treated with progressive muscle relaxation

Sleep disruption

Weak evidence of better sleep quality among adults and children with cancer treated with relaxation

Stress, tension, or distress

Preliminary evidence of less stress or distressemotional, social, spiritual, or physical pain or suffering that may cause a person to feel sad, afraid, depressed, anxious, or lonely; people in distress may also feel that they are not able to manage or cope with changes caused by normal life activities or by having a disease, such as cancer without regard to treatment phase among people with cancer treated with relaxation and other mind-body therapies

Preliminary evidence of less stress or better coping skills during cancer treatment or intervention among people with breast cancer treated with relaxation, sometimes also with visualization

Preliminary evidence of less tension or distress among hospitalized people with cancer or parents of hospitalized children with cancer treated with relaxation, sometimes also with guided imagery

Preliminary evidence of less distress among people with cancer in hospice treated with interactive guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation

Other side effects and symptoms

Preliminary evidence of shorter hospital stays after mastectomy among women with breast cancer treated with music therapy and progressive muscle relaxation training

No evidence of an effect on surgical side effects after colorectal surgery among elderly people treated with relaxation in a preliminary study

Symptoms and side effects not specific to cancer

Preliminary evidence of better sleep quality among people with insomnia or undergoing surgery treated with relaxation, sometimes also with guided imagery

Preliminary evidence of less surgical wound redness after gallbladder surgery among people treated with relaxation with guided imagery

Preliminary evidence of lower heart rate values, subjective ratings of anxiety, reflux symptom ratings, and total esophageal acid exposure after a stressful task among people with reflux disease receiving a relaxation intervention

Keep reading about relaxation techniques

Author

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Reviewer

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Last update: May 27, 2022

CancerChoices provides information about integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

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