Receiving a cancer diagnosis can come with an overwhelming amount of emotions and psychological stressors. The physical toll that treatments take on your body can create even more stress on your mind and wreak havoc on multiple body systems. Practicing techniques to help relax both your mind and body can help you cope with the emotional and physical stress of cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Why It Works:
Research shows that practicing relaxation techniques can reduce your perception of pain. Because pain levels can vary depending on your cancer type and treatment therapies, pain relief is often a necessary part of the treatment process. Using relaxation techniques to help control your pain is a great way to help get you through your treatments.
Relaxation techniques can reduce stress hormone levels and disengage our automatic fight or flight response. This decreases your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate, as well as releases muscle tension during stressful times when these levels typically skyrocket.
Practicing these techniques can enhance coping skills, giving you the opportunity to better manage your emotional stress level. In some cases, relaxation techniques have also been shown to enhance immune response and boost your body's immune system in a natural, healthy way.
As always, it is best to speak with your doctor before beginning any of these or any other practices. Healthcare professionals can suggest therapists or clinical psychologists to give you personalized instructions in practicing relaxation techniques. They can help to determine which techniques will work best for you and supervise the practices.
Some techniques are also taught in a group setting, while simpler relaxation techniques can be self taught through resources available online and through video or audio books.
Types of Relaxation Techniques:
Breathing Exercises: This is one of the most basic relaxation techniques because it can be done anywhere, anytime you need some stress relief and the results are typically fast. Breathing exercises consist of purposeful rhythmic inhaling and exhaling for the purpose of relaxation.
Meditation: This technique requires time and concentration to complete. Meditation can relax the mind by redirecting your thoughts and emotions to a more mindful state. Practicing meditation can be done alone or with a guide.
Guided Imagery: Similar to meditation, this practice involves focusing on a pleasant or positive image to create a state of intense relaxation.
Autogenic Training: This practice requires focusing on different physical sensations including relaxing individual areas of the body by imagining them becoming heavy or warm. Autogenic training requires mental focus to create physical sensations.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing individual muscles or muscle groups in a sequential, orderly fashion. This promotes muscular awareness to give an overall relaxed feeling.
Biofeedback: This technique is done mainly under the direction of a physician or therapist and involves electrodes or sensors to be placed onto the skin. These sensors send information to a monitor displaying images representative of your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate or brain waves. By viewing this function as an image on a screen, you can then use forms of relaxation techniques like deep breathing or autogenic training to see how these techniques affect your body and fine tune your skills.
Hypnotherapy: Though this practice can be controversial, many cancer patients swear by its ability to create a relaxing feeling and release tension or stress. This therapy is led by a hypnotherapist who guides you through a trance like state to create symptom or stress relief.
Shifting Focus: This is a fairly easy technique which involves using quiet time or silence along with stillness to allow your focus to shift away from stressful thoughts.
Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy uses essential oils drawn from plants, seeds, flowers, or other naturally occurring sources to be applied to the skin or inhaled. This practice is often seen as a more holistic alternative to conventional techniques because they have been used historically, even before the invention of most modern medicines.
Finding the right relaxation technique for you may take some time and experimentation. However, once you find a method that works for you, the benefits of relaxation can help your body to better endure cancer treatment.
What has helped you to relax during cancer treatments? Please share below.