Reiki For Anxiety And Depression

  • Jasmine Abdy Bachelor of Science - BSc, Medical Microbiology with a Year in Industry, University of Bristol
  • Regina Lopes Senior Nursing Assistant, Health and Social Care, The Open University

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Did you know that 280 million people worldwide are thought to have depression according to the World Health Organisation (WHO)?1

Depression and anxiety are both common serious mood disorders that can severely affect someone’s ability to live their life. While the general popular belief equals depression with feeling blue or sad, and anxiety with feeling nervous before an event, both are serious, and consistent, and can severely affect how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities. Standard treatments for these conditions range from changing your daily activities and psychotherapy to taking medications. However, complementary medicine is conceived as a more natural, ‘safer’ choice with reduced side effects, growing in popularity among the general public in recent years.2 One of these complementary medicines is Reiki, which consists of massages over the clothed body, aiming to encourage your nervous system to induce relaxation in your body. In this article, we will explore this complementary medicine, as well as its potential impact on alleviating anxiety and depression. The take-home messages from this article are that while Reiki can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression, there is limited scientific evidence and further study should be conducted. Moreover, whether Reiki is beneficial or not varies from person to person and their condition.

What are depression and anxiety?

Depression and anxiety manifest as long-term mental health conditions negatively impacting people’s ability to have a normal life and engage in their day-to-day activities. In most cases before being diagnosed, your symptoms must have started at least 2 weeks before. Some common symptoms of depression include:3

  • Persistent sadness and a feeling of emptiness
  • The feeling of hopelessness, helplessness, and pessimism
  • Loss of interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy (e.g. hobbies)
  • Decreased energy levels, fatigue and feeling ‘slowed down’
  • Difficulty sleeping, concentrating, remembering, and waking up early
  • Appetite changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

It is important to note that depression can look different in everyone. You don’t have to experience all these symptoms to be diagnosed with depression. Although some people can have both mood disorders (depression and anxiety), different to the former, anxiety is a constant feeling of unease, worry or fear that negatively affects your day-to-day life. Feeling anxious before an exam, a medical test or a job interview is perfectly normal. It is when this expands to general tasks that it should be diagnosed/treated. Importantly, anxiety can be a symptom of other conditions, including:4

However, other people may not have any of these disorders, but instead, have generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), which is a long-term condition causing you to feel anxious most days about situations that would not normally cause any anxiety. While symptoms can vary from person to person, GAD includes the following symptoms:

  • Feeling worried or restless constantly
  • Being unable to sleep or focus on tasks
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Increased heart palpitations

There are some things you can do yourself to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Some include joining a self-help course, exercising regularly, stopping alcohol and tobacco consumption, and eating healthily.  However, anxiety can also be treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both. Some of the therapies for depression and anxiety include:4,5

But what is Reiki, and how can it help treat these mental health conditions?

Understanding reiki

Reiki is a Japanese complementary therapy which was developed by Mikao Usui in the early 20th century. It derives from two Japanese words: ‘’rei’’, which means universal, and ‘’ki’’, which means life energy or vital force. Reiki practitioners believe that there is a universal life energy flowing through all living beings, and they aim to channel this energy to promote healing and balance through massages. These massages consist of non-invasive, non-manipulative gentle touches on both your front and back. Thus, Reiki is sometimes used alongside standard treatments to reduce anxiety and depression in alternative medicine centres, some hospitals, hospices, cancer support centres and palliative care units.6

Practitioners believe that Reiki can achieve its beneficial effects by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the ‘rest and digest’ bodily functions.7 By activating this branch of the nervous system, Reiki aims to induce relaxation in multiple organs, supporting bodily functions related to rest, digestion, and recovery.8 

Scientific perspectives on reiki

There aren’t many studies assessing the benefit of Reiki on depression and anxiety. Some of the studies have focussed on assessing whether Reiki can reduce stress levels, help people relax, and reduce symptoms of some chronic illnesses. However, the evidence is not very strong, different studies use different testing methods, have been done on animals, or have a high potential of being biassed due to the way the experiments were designed. This means that further research is needed and that we need to be careful when concluding them.

Some studies conducted using rats showed that those who received Reiki were less stressed when compared to the ones not receiving it. In this study, rats were stressed by exposing them to loud noises, which often provoke microvascular damage in response to stress (small damage in rats’ blood vessels). The scientists found that rats exposed to Reiki had reduced stress levels, demonstrated by having less microvascular damage when compared to their counterparts.9

Similarly, a subsequent follow-up study found that loud noise-stressed rats given Reiki had a lower average resting heart rate. Higher heart rates when resting are linked to higher levels of stress, further suggesting Reiki helped reduce stress responses in rats, according to the scientists.10

Studies conducted on humans have shown similar positive results. For example, when hypertensive patients (with high blood pressure) were given a single 20-minute session of Reiki, their blood pressure significantly decreased when compared to the group not receiving treatment, which further suggests that Reiki can help reduce stress levels. These studies are relevant since higher stress levels are often related to anxiety and depression.11

The trend seems to correlate in studies looking at depression and anxiety, as patients who were given 30-minute Reiki sessions, 2 times per week for 5 weeks, had reduced pain, depression, and anxiety, as well as enhanced self-esteem.12

Another study assessing depression in the elderly living in nursing homes found that patients receiving Reiki by professional practitioners had reduced indicators of depression on the 4th, 8th, and 12th weeks of treatment. This was different in the groups receiving ‘Reiki’ from nurses who were not trained on how to do this practice and those who did not receive treatment at all (13). Their depression was measured by a depression score called the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS), which is a commonly used screening test for depression symptoms in the elderly.14

Other studies have highlighted the beneficial effects of Reiki on the quality of life of patients in palliative care or with chronic pain,6 showcasing the potential benefit of using Reiki as a complement to standard treatment. Nevertheless, because of the limited number of studies, it can’t be confidently asserted that Reiki helps patients with anxiety/depression. However, as demonstrated above, the published research and data tend to show positive results.


Reiki is a complementary medicinal practice that originated in Japan in the early 1900s. It consists of massages that focus on activating your parasympathetic nervous system, a branch of your nervous system responsible for promoting relaxation. For this reason, it’s gaining popularity among people suffering from stress, pain, or chronic conditions like anxiety and depression, as it can help reduce the symptoms associated with these illnesses. Although research suggests that Reiki can help people with these conditions feel better, the evidence is not very strong, mainly due to the scarcity of data, research groups using different testing methods which hinder comparisons, and the potential of bias, highlighting the need for having more research conducted to understand the health benefits associated with this practice better.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is reiki and how does it work?

  • Reiki is a form of alternative therapy that involves the channelling of ‘universal life energy’ through the practitioner's hands to promote healing. It is based on the belief that a life force energy flows through all living things.

Is reiki safe for everyone?

  • Reiki is generally considered safe for most people. However, individuals with certain medical conditions or those undergoing specific treatments should consult with their healthcare provider before trying Reiki.

Can reiki replace traditional mental health treatments?

  • Reiki is sometimes used as a complementary therapy alongside traditional mental health treatments. While it may provide relaxation and stress reduction, it is not intended to replace professional medical or psychological interventions, but rather to complement them.

How many sessions of reiki are typically needed to see results?

  • The number of sessions needed varies from person to person. Some individuals may experience benefits after a single session, while others may require multiple sessions to see significant results.

Are there any side effects of Reiki?

  • Reiki is generally considered safe, and side effects are rare. Some individuals may experience a sense of deep relaxation or emotional release. It's essential to communicate with the practitioner about any unusual reactions.

Is reiki supported by scientific evidence?

  • The scientific evidence supporting Reiki is limited. While some studies suggest positive effects, more research is needed to establish its efficacy conclusively. The subjective nature of experiences in Reiki makes it challenging to study using traditional scientific methods.

How do I find a qualified reiki practitioner?

  • To find a qualified Reiki practitioner, consider seeking recommendations from trusted sources, checking practitioner directories, and ensuring that the practitioner has appropriate training and certifications. It's essential to feel comfortable and trust the practitioner.


  1. Depressive disorder (depression) [Internet]. [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Available from:
  2. Song K, Wang Y, Shen L, Wang J, Zhang R. Complementary and alternative therapies for generalised anxiety disorder: A protocol for systematic review and network meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2022 Dec 23;101(51):e32401.
  3. Depression - National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) [Internet]. [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Available from:
  4. [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Overview - Generalised anxiety disorder in adults. Available from:
  5. [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Treatment - Depression in adults. Available from:
  6. McManus DE. Reiki Is Better Than Placebo and Has Broad Potential as a Complementary Health Therapy. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017 Oct;22(4):1051–7.
  7. Tindle J, Tadi P. Neuroanatomy, Parasympathetic Nervous System. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Available from:
  8. Webster LC, Holden JM, Ray DC, Price E, Hastings TM. The Impact of Psychotherapeutic Reiki on Anxiety. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health. 2020 Jul 2;15(3):311–26.
  9. Baldwin AL, Schwartz GE. Personal Interaction with a Reiki Practitioner Decreases Noise-Induced Microvascular Damage in an Animal Model. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2006 Jan;12(1):15–22.
  10. Baldwin AL, Wagers C, Schwartz GE. Reiki Improves Heart Rate Homeostasis in Laboratory Rats. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2008 May;14(4):417–22.
  11. Ross RA, Foster SL, Ionescu DF. The Role of Chronic Stress in Anxious Depression. Chronic Stress (Thousand Oaks). 2017 Feb 17;1:2470547016689472.
  12. Dressen LJ, Sings. EFFECTS OF REIKI ON PAIN AND SELECTED AFFECTIVE AND PERSONALITY VARIABLES OF CHRONICALLY ILL PATIENTS. Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine Journal Archives [Internet]. 1998 [cited 2024 Mar 2];9(1). Available from:
  13. Erdogan Z, Cinar S. The effect of Reiki on depression in elderly people living in nursing homes. 2016;15(1).
  14. Brañez-Condorena A, Soriano-Moreno DR, Navarro-Flores A, Solis-Chimoy B, Diaz-Barrera ME, Taype-Rondan A. Accuracy of the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS)-4 and GDS-5 for the screening of depression among older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2021 July 1;16(7):e0253899.

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Gabriel Aurelio Ortega Toledo

Immunology degree - Bsc (Hons), Immunology, Biology, The University of Edinburgh

Gabriel is a recent graduate with a BSc in Immunology from the University of Edinburgh. While his academic foundation lies in immunology, his professional focus has expanded into the domains of education, media, and science communications. Gabriel has actively participated in various facets of medical research, contributes to a biology podcast, and collaborates with an autoimmune disease charity as a patient interviewer. His enthusiasm for medical writing stems from a profound interest in healthcare science, a commitment to simplifying complex data, and a genuine passion for connecting with people. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
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