An 8-Week Relaxation Program Consisting of Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Mindfulness Meditation to Reduce Stress and Attenuate Stress-Driven Eating

Appl Psychol Health Well Being. 2020 Mar;12(1):188-211. doi: 10.1111/aphw.12179. Epub 2019 Oct 1.


Background: Stress is often associated with the intake of energy-dense palatable foods. This trial examined the feasibility and preliminary efficacy of an 8-week worksite-based relaxation intervention to address psychological stress and unhealthy food intake.

Methods: Thirty-six men and women were exposed to an acute stressor, while physiological and psychological responses were assessed, prior to being offered a test meal. Participants were then randomised to a relaxation intervention (RELAX; face-to-face classes and daily home practice of progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness meditation), or a wait-list control (CON). All measures were repeated after the intervention.

Results: Intervention compliance was high (80% ± 19% face-to-face; 79% ± 18% home practice), and each session acutely reduced perceived stress (p < .001) and increased relaxation (p < .001). After 8 weeks, trait mindfulness was increased (p = .025), along with reduced tension (p = .013) and increased relaxation (p < .05) post-acute stressor in the intervention group. There was no effect of the intervention on palatable eating, cravings, or energy intake at a laboratory test meal, with small associated effect sizes (d = 0.01-0.3).

Conclusions: The program studied here is feasible and sessions transiently reduce perceived stress and improve mindfulness; however, the program may not influence the physiological response to an acute stressor or appetite and eating variables.

Keywords: mindful; relaxation; stress management; stress-eating; worksite-based.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meditation*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mindfulness*
  • Muscle Relaxation*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Relaxation Therapy*
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*
  • Young Adult