Relaxation training: could slowing it down be the key to combating post-stroke anxiety?

July 5, 2018

With most literature focusing on the speed of recovery following stroke, it can sometimes feel like the pressure is on to get back to your normal life as quickly as possible. And while motivation is important, it is equally important to remember that we are all individuals and that increasing the pressure doesn’t necessarily lead to a faster recovery. Sometimes it just leads to anxiety.

Post-stroke anxiety: you’re not alone

While you might not hear much about post-stroke anxiety, it’s anything but a rarity. Evidence suggests that it affects almost one in four stroke-affected individuals, having a negative impact on quality of life, relationships, and functional outcomes of rehabilitation.

Meditation not medication

While medication can sometimes help, most clinical evidence points towards the use of relaxation techniques to combat anxiety. A team of researchers from the UK and Australia assessed one such example of these techniques. Their study focused on the use of autogenic relaxation. This technique relaxes the body through the use of ‘mantras’. These ‘mantras’ allow patients to talk themselves into a state of deep relaxation.

The team tested the approach on 55 patients in recovery for stroke-related conditions. The team invited subjects to attend weekly in-house sessions (the ‘house’ being an inpatient stroke unit). Attendance was not compulsory, with patients completing between one and 11 sessions over a period of two years. Following the sessions, researchers graded attendees on the ‘Tension Rating Scale’. This scale is a modified version of a system used to measure depression and depressive symptoms.

The benefits of taking it slow

Even in those subjects who attended just a single session, there was evidence of a reduction in self-reported tension. This outcome suggests that relaxation training could have a role in reducing the anxiety that is common following stroke.

So while further research is warranted to determine if, for example, more focused techniques could improve outcomes in specific groups of patients, it seems that when it comes to post-stroke anxiety, the answer could come from meditation, rather than medication.


The lead author of the original article was Ian Kneebone, University of Western Sydney, School of Social Sciences and Psychology, Penrith, Australia.


Editorial note:

When it comes to reducing post-stroke anxiety, meditation has been proven to help.

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