What do we know about the effectiveness of mindfulness and relaxation techniques?
Mindfulness techniques are beneficial in helping a number of health conditions, including anxiety connected to illness or medical procedures, insomnia, pain, chemotherapy induced nausea as well as temporomandibular joint dysfunction.
What are mindfulness techniques?
Mindfulness techniques include a series of exercises such as progressive relaxation, guided imagery, biofeedback, self-hypnosis and breathing exercises. The goal is similar: to activate the body’s natural relaxation response, which is characterized by slower breathing, lower blood pressure and an overall improved well-being.
Meditation and similar exercises, such as yoga and tai chi, can also activate this state of relaxation. Stress management programs usually include mindfulness techniques. These were further studied to determine if they could be used to cope with various health problems.
Overview of scientifically proven mindfulness techniques
These include autogenic training methods, as well as deep breathing exercises:
– Biofeedback-supported relaxation
Biofeedback techniques measure bodily functions and deliver descriptive information so that you can learn to control them. Electronic devices are used to teach you how to create positive changes in your body through relaxation, such as reduced muscle tension.
Deep breathing exercises
– Guided imagery
This technique teaches people to concentrate on pleasant images, thereby replacing negative or strenuous thoughts. Guided imagery can be self-directed or directed by a practitioner or recording.
– Progressive relaxation
What does science say about the effectiveness of mindfulness techniques?
Researchers evaluated whether mindfulness techniques could play a positive role in coping with a number of health conditions, including the following:
Research has shown that mindfulness techniques can reduce anxiety in people with persistent health problems such as heart diseases or inflammatory bowel disease, as well as people undergoing medical treatments such as biopsies or dental work. Mindfulness techniques also proved effective for elderly individuals suffering from anxiety.
Mindfulness techniques such as guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation and breathing techniques can reduce anxiety linked to labour pains. Studies have shown that women who regularly practiced self-hypnosis experienced less need for pain medication during labour. It was not determined whether biofeedback also reduced labour pains.
An evaluation of 15 studies has revealed that mindfulness techniques used to reduce the symptoms of depression were more beneficial than no treatment, but not as effective as psychological therapies, such as the cognitive behavioural therapy.
- Biofeedback: Biofeedback was studied in both tension-induced headaches as well as migraines. Studies have shown that migraine frequency decreases when people use mindfulness techniques. It is, however, still unclear whether biofeedback is better than a placebo
- Other mindfulness techniques: Other techniques were also studied for their effect on tension-type headaches. An evaluation of a number of studies suggests that other mindfulness techniques are not as effective for relieving headaches as biofeedback.
Studies have proven that people suffering from heart disease showed positive bodily reactions such as improved heart rate, as well as reduced stress and anxiety, following the use of mindfulness techniques.
High blood pressure
Stress is a known cause of high blood pressure. The relaxation reaction has been proven to lower blood pressure in the short-term, resulting in a reduced need for blood pressure medication.
Evidence suggests that mindfulness techniques can improve insomnia. These can be combined with other strategies, such as the avoidance of caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals or strenuous exercise shortly before going to bed. It also helps to sleep in a quiet, cold and dark room.
When used in combination with nausea medication, mindfulness techniques proved effective in producing progressive muscle relaxation and reduced nausea in patients receiving chemo treatment.
A number of studies have shown that mindfulness techniques are an effective approach to treating nightmares with unknown causes, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder. However, other more extensive forms of treatment, such as psychotherapy or medication, proved to be more effective.
Evaluations of various studies yielded promising but inconclusive results on whether guided imagery was effective in relieving musculoskeletal and other pain. An analysis of data from hospitalised cancer patients showed that those that practiced integrated medication therapy and mindfulness techniques, such as guided imagery, greatly reduced their pain and anxiety levels.
Pain in children and adolescents
An assessment of scientific revelations form 2014 revealed that psychological therapies, which included mindfulness techniques and cognitive behavioural therapy, were effective in reducing chronic pain such as headaches in children and adolescents. This evidence is particularly promising for headaches: the effect on the pain can continue several months after treatment. Furthermore, the therapies assist in reducing anxiety.
- Preliminary research suggests that guided meditation can lead to a reduced need for cigarettes
- Some evidence suggests that guided imagery could be a useful tool for people who are trying to quit smoking
Problems with the jaw joint can lead to pain and difficulty moving the jaw. Various studies have shown that programs which include mindfulness practices can relieve the symptoms of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
What does science say about the safety and side effects of mindfulness techniques?
- Mindfulness techniques are generally considered safe for healthy people. If you are experiencing serious or chronic symptoms of any kind, please refer to your doctor. Anxiety disorders or depression for example require qualified medical help.
- Inform all involved health care providers of further integrative approaches you are following. Provide a detailed description of all aspects of your health practices, as this will ensure the coordination and safety of your health.
Who teaches mindfulness techniques?
A variety of experts teach mindfulness techniques, including doctors, psychologists, social workers, nurses and health practitioners. Some people also learn these techniques independently.
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