Numerous studies confirm that chronic stress – whether caused by external pressure or internal perception – impairs immune function. Indeed, some authoritative sources on the subject believe that intense, protracted stress may be as damaging to good health as smoking or poor diet. It is important that cancer patients relieve themselves of as much stress as possible.
Relaxation exercises have been recognised as helping to achieve a state of deep relaxation, that not only relieves anxiety but produces other important physiological benefits as well. Here are some of the most effective relaxation techniques:
People sometimes misunderstand hypnosis as inducing a trance-like state which causes the subject to fall under some measure of control of the hypnotist. In fact, hypnosis involves little more than putting the subject into a deeply relaxed state in order to help reduce discomfort or anxiety. You can be hypnotized by a qualified hypnotist, or you can learn self-hypnosis. Your doctor, nurse, or social worker can refer you to someone trained in this technique.
Imagery and Visualisation
Imagery and visualization are essentially applied forms of meditation. In order to use these techniques to relax and moderate anxiety, get into a meditative state and actively imagine – using all of your senses – a scene or circumstance of particular calm, security, or contentment. This imagery can be as varied as imagining yourself holding a grandchild in your arms to picturing yourself sunbathing on a tropical island beach. It doesn’t matter what imagery you use as long as it evokes a deep sense of peace.
There are a number of ways to learn how to do imagery/visualisation. You can buy books, tapes or CDs that will explain the practice and take you through a series of imagery exercises. Perhaps the easiest way to become proficient with imagery/visualization is to initially work with a psychologist or other professional trained in the discipline. They can teach you the technique and even make a tape or CD for you to listen to at home which is customised to your particular circumstance.
Meditation is a relaxation technique that allows you to focus your energy and your thoughts on something very specific. This is especially helpful when your mind and body are stressed from cancer treatment. You can learn to practice mediation from a number of different sources: books and tapes are available on meditation, including those directed specifically to cancer patients. You can also learn the technique from a professional trained in meditation. Your doctor, nurse, or social worker may be able to refer you to a qualified practitioner.
Muscle Tension and Release
This is a simple but effective relaxation method. Lie down in a quiet room. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose. As you breathe in, tense a particular muscle or group of muscles. For example, you can squeeze your eyes shut, frown, clench your teeth, make a fist, or stiffen your arms or legs. Hold your breath and keep your muscles tense for a second or two. Then breathe out through your mouth, release the tension, and let your body relax completely. Repeat the process with another muscle or muscle group.
You can also try a variation of this method called "progressive relaxation." Start with the toes of one foot and, working upward, progressively tense and relax all the muscles of one leg. Next, do the same with the other leg. Then tense and relax the rest of the muscle groups in your body, including those in your scalp. Remember to hold your breath while tensing your muscles and to breathe out when releasing the tension.
If you believe in a spiritual power, prayer can provide strength, comfort and inspiration throughout the cancer experience. Whether you pray alone, with family and friends, or as a member of a religious community, prayer may help. A member of the clergy or a spiritual advisor can help you incorporate prayer into your daily life.
Get in a comfortable position and relax all your muscles. If you keep your eyes open, focus on a distant object. If you close your eyes, imagine a peaceful scene or simply clear your mind and focus on your breathing. Breathe in and out slowly and comfortably through your nose. If you like, you can keep the rhythm steady by saying to yourself "In, one, two; out, one, two." Feel yourself relax and go limp each time you exhale. You can do this technique for just a few seconds or for up to 10 minutes. End your rhythmic breathing by counting slowly and silently to three.
All you need to do yoga is a quiet, comfortable place and some time each day to practice breathing, stretching, and meditation. To learn about yoga you may want to take a class or review books, audiotapes or videotapes on yoga.