Relaxation Techniques to Help Cancer Patients Cope
This fact sheet reviews a number of relaxation techniques that cancer patients can use.
Cancer and its treatment can be stressful for people with cancer and their caregivers. Relaxation techniques and other mind/body practices can help calm your mind and sharpen your ability to focus.
These techniques offer creative ways to reduce stress caused by cancer and to maintain inner peace. For example, some people use these techniques to help them relax as they wait for treatments or test results.
Here are some techniques that can help you cope with the challenges of cancer:
DEEP-BREATHING EXERCISES At the core of life is breath. Laughing and sighing are the body's natural ways of getting us to breathe deeply. That is why we often feel calmer or rejuvenated after these experiences. Anxiety and stress can make us take short, shallow breaths. Shallow breathing, which does not allow enough oxygen to enter our bodies, can make us even more anxious. Try this four-step breathing exercise. It can be done anywhere, anytime:
- Take in a deep breath from your diaphragm (this is the muscle between your lungs and abdomen).
- Hold the breath for several seconds – however long is comfortable for you – and then exhale slowly.
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 two more times.
- Afterwards, relax for a moment and let yourself feel the experience of being calm.
MEDITATION Repetitive prayers are a form of meditation. Two other traditional forms of meditation include “one-pointed” and “two-pointed” meditation.
One-pointed meditation focuses on a word or sound called a mantra. Many people create their own mantra from an affirming word, such as “peace,” “love” or “hope.” The goal is to relax the mind, which has a natural tendency to jump from one idea to the next – and from one worry to the next.
Do not try to force your mind back to your mantra when you notice it has wandered. Simply guide it back gently, accepting that it will stray again.
Two-pointed meditation is also called “mindful” or “insight” meditation. With this technique, you relax your mind by focusing on your breath. As your mind jumps around, practice “non-judgmental awareness” – simply observe the pattern of your thoughts and gently guide them back to focus on your breath.
Non-judgmental awareness allows you to separate yourself from emotions and sensations rather than getting pulled into them. One benefit of this type of meditation is that you can practice it while seated quietly or when doing daily activities.
GUIDED IMAGERY This stress-reducing technique combines deep breathing and meditation. As you practice deep breathing, imagine a peaceful scene or setting, perhaps from a memory. Once you are relaxed, you can create a “wakeful dream” in which, for example, you envision pain being washed away or your body becoming stronger.
Many people practice guided imagery exercises while listening to recordings of “ambient” sounds. These are usually music or sounds from nature, such as waterfalls or ocean waves. Sometimes just listening to ambient sounds is enough to relax your mind and briefly transport you emotionally to a place in which you feel safer and more secure.