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Stress management techniques: Are they all equivalent, or do they have specific effects?

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This article evaluates the hypothesis that various stress management techniques have specific effects. Studies comparing various techniques are reviewed, as well as previous literature reviews evaluating the effects of individual techniques. There is evidence that cognitively oriented methods have specific cognitive effects, that specific autonomic effects result from autonomically oriented methods, and that specific muscular effects are produced by muscularly oriented methods. Muscle relaxation and/or EMG biofeedback have greater muscular effects and smaller autonomic effects than finger temperature biofeedback and/or autogenic training. EMG biofeedback produces greater effects on particular muscular groups than progressive relaxation, and thermal biofeedback has greater finger temperature effects than autogenic training. Disorders with a predominant muscular component (e.g., tension headaches) are treated more effectively by muscularly oriented methods, while disorders in which autonomic dysfunction predominates (e.g., hypertension, migraine headaches) are more effectively treated by techniques with a strong autonomic component. Anxiety and phobias tend to be most effectively treated by methods with both strong cognitive and behavioral components.

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Correspondence to Paul M. Lehrer.

Additional information

This work was supported by grants Nos. HL-34336 and HL-44097 from the Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. Material in this article has been condensed and updated from three chapters in Lehrer, P. M., and Woolfolk, R. L. (1993).Principles and practice of stress management, Vol. 2, New York: Guilford Press.

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Lehrer, P.M., Carr, R., Sargunaraj, D. et al. Stress management techniques: Are they all equivalent, or do they have specific effects?. Biofeedback and Self-Regulation 19, 353–401 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01776735

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Descriptor Key words

  • relaxation
  • biofeedback
  • autogenic training
  • meditation
  • stress management
  • cognitive therapy
  • anxiety
  • hypertension
  • headache