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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Relaxation training for anxiety: a ten-years systematic review with meta-analysis

Gian Mauro Manzoni12*, Francesco Pagnini2, Gianluca Castelnuovo13 and Enrico Molinari13

Author Affiliations

1 Istituto Auxologico Italiano IRCCS, Psychology Research Laboratory, San Giuseppe Hospital, Verbania, Italy

2 Department of Psychology, University of Bergamo, Italy

3 Department of Psychology, Catholic University of Milan, Italy

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BMC Psychiatry 2008, 8:41  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-8-41

Published: 2 June 2008

Abstract

Background

Relaxation training is a common treatment for anxiety problems. Lacking is a recent quantitative meta-analysis that enhances understanding of the variability and clinical significance of anxiety reduction outcomes after relaxation treatment.

Methods

All studies (1997–2007), both RCT, observational and without control group, evaluating the efficacy of relaxation training (Jacobson's progressive relaxation, autogenic training, applied relaxation and meditation) for anxiety problems and disorders were identified by comprehensive electronic searches with Pubmed, Psychinfo and Cochrane Registers, by checking references of relevant studies and of other reviews. Our primary outcome was anxiety measured with psychometric questionnaires. Meta-analysis was undertaken synthesizing the data from all trials, distinguishing within and between effect sizes.

Results

27 studies qualified for the inclusion in the meta-analysis. As hypothesized, relaxation training showed a medium-large effect size in the treatment of anxiety. Cohen's d was .57 (95% CI: .52 to .68) in the within analysis and .51 (95% CI: .46 to .634) in the between group analysis. Efficacy was higher for meditation, among volunteers and for longer treatments. Implications and limitations are discussed.

Conclusion

The results show consistent and significant efficacy of relaxation training in reducing anxiety. This meta-analysis extends the existing literature through facilitation of a better understanding of the variability and clinical significance of anxiety improvement subsequent to relaxation training.