Relaxation exercises

Relaxation exercises can be a very effective non-drug way to treat headaches, stress, and anxiety. They can be particularly helpful in situations where analgesic (pain) medications are used too frequently. These simple exercises can often be performed in 20 to 30 seconds, and the relaxation that results may help to decrease the muscular tension noted about the head and neck.

Some people practice these exercises (especially the deep breathing) for a few minutes each day whereas others use the exercises for several minutes only when they have a headache or are under significant stress. It is preferable for mild daily headaches to do 20 to 30 seconds of deep breathing rather than reaching for a pain medication.

The success of relaxation exercises is directly related to the motivation of the person performing the exercises. If you do not follow through and regularly practice the exercises, you will not receive their full benefit. Numerous books and cassette tapes are available in local bookstores to learn more about the benefits of relaxation therapy. View a list of books.

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is easy and effective. It can be very helpful for combating stress on a daily basis. Twenty of 30 seconds of five breaths may be all that is necessary. You need to slow your breathing down for half a minute, focus on the breaths with eyes closed and take very deep breaths.

Abdominal breathing may be practiced anywhere, anytime. The easiest position to first learn this technique is laying on the back as follows:

  1. Lay down on your back with one hand on your abdomen and one on the chest.
  2. Breathe through your nose slowly.
  3. While finishing the breath, push your abdomen with your hand up toward the sky.
  4. Slowly allow the breath to pass back out through your chest and nostrils.
  5. Do the above exercise daily for as long as you have time (at least several minutes each day).
  6. As you exhale, you may find it helpful to say to yourself "relax." With practice, four or five deep breaths while saying "relax" may me all that is necessary to significantly lower your muscle tension.
  7. While inhaling, it may be beneficial to count slowly from one to four, hold the breath for a second, and then exhale, counting from one to seven slowly.


Adding imagery to the deep breathing exercises enhances their effectiveness.

  1. Imagine a quiet, calm, warm, pleasant scene. It may be an image that gives you an overall feeling of well being. Examples are a warm, comfortable room with a cracking fire going in the fireplace; laying on cool, beautiful, spacious expansive grass; or being on a lovely white sand beach.
  2. After beginning to deep breathing, put yourself in the comfortable scene. Attempt to experience all of the sounds, feelings, smells and intricacies of the image. Continue the deep breathing throughout the entire exercise.

These techniques are easy to learn and all patients with significant headaches and/or stress should be encouraged to at least attempt some form of relaxation imagery or biofeedback.