Relaxation Techniques

Emotional stress can make asthma worse. Chronically stressed children have more asthma attacks.1 Stressed adults tend to have more symptoms and worse quality of life.2 They miss more doses of medication, and medications may not work as well.2,3 Therefore, there is reason to believe that reducing stress could be helpful for people with asthma.

It is possible to learn techniques that help you to relax.4 When your body is relaxed, you breathe more slowly and your blood pressure goes down. Your feelings of well-being go up.

Generally, studies of relaxation techniques for asthma have been small and low-quality. A few do show that there are some benefits.5 However, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute states that larger, high-quality studies are needed before they can recommend using these techniques.1

What are relaxation techniques?

There are many different relaxation techniques (Table).4,6 Relaxation techniques have been studied for many medical conditions. They are helpful insomnia, labor pain, chemotherapy side effects, jaw pain, and some types of anxiety.4

Table. Relaxation techniques

Autogenic training
You learn to notice feelings of warmth, heaviness, and relaxation in different parts of your body.
Progressive relaxation
You tighten and relax various muscle groups.
Functional relaxation
You move your joints very slightly as you breathe out. You learn to focus on the different sensation triggered by the movement. Functional relaxation is a similar to progressive relaxation.
Guided imagery
You learn to focus on pleasant images in place of negative or stressful feelings.
You use electronic devices to learn how to reduce muscle tension. You learn how produce changes in your body that help you relax.
You learn to relax in response to a prompt, such as a phrase or non-verbal cue.
Deep breathing exercises
You use slow, deep, even breathing to become relaxed. You breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.
You learn to become aware of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations in a non-judgmental way. You can do meditation can with movement, such as with yoga or tai chi.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Healing. Relaxation techniques for health: What you need to know. Accessed 3/2/15 at:; Lahmann C, et al. Psychother Psychosom. 2009;78:233-239.

What do studies say about using relaxation techniques for asthma?

Unfortunately, there are problems with the design of most studies of relaxation techniques.5 They are small and short. They do not use the best ways to measure outcomes. It is hard to find a good control (fake) treatment for comparison. Lack of evidence does not mean that these techniques are no good. There is just not much information about them.

Functional or progressive relaxation techniques seems to be the most promising.5 There are several studies of these approaches.

Adults and children
One study involved 18 children and adults. Participants had less airway resistance after practicing functional relaxation.7

Pregnant women
A randomized, controlled trial compared progressive relaxation with a sham (fake) treatment.8 There were 84 pregnant women in this study. Women had better lung function after progressive relaxation than before. Lung function was also better when compared to the women who did the sham treatment. A similar trial with teenage girls produced the same results.9

Adults with allergic asthma
Sixty-four adults were randomly assigned to functional relaxation, guided imagery, both, or a control intervention.6 Four months later, the people in the functional relaxation group had better lung function and less airway resistance than the people in the control group. Guided imagery was not effective in the end. The people who used both techniques had mixed results.

What are the benefits of using relaxation techniques?

Relaxation techniques may lead to some improvement in symptoms and lung function.1 Medication use may also go down.10 To be certain about the benefits, better studies are necessary.

What are the risks of using relaxation techniques?

For most people, relaxation techniques are safe.4

How do I learn relaxation techniques?

You can learn some simple techniques on your own. Complementary and alternative practitioners, doctors, psychologists, social workers, or nurses may also be able to teach you.4 These techniques work best if you practice them regularly.

Written by: Sarah O'Brien | Last Reviewed: May 2016.
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