The diagnosis of cancer presents many challenges, and you may feel a
great deal of stress. Some people try to relieve stress by smoking, drinking,
overeating, using drugs, or just "shutting down." Some people become violent or
abusive in response to stress. These methods of coping have harmful side
effects. By learning other ways to deal with symptoms of stress, you can avoid
problems that may affect yourself or others and improve your overall quality of
Express yourself. Stress
and tension affect our emotions. By expressing your feelings to others, you may
be able to understand and cope with them.
Join a support group.
Talking about a problem with your spouse, a good friend, or other people with
similar problems is a valuable way to reduce tension and stress.
Cry. Crying also can relieve tension. It's
part of the emotional healing process.
Artistic expression. Expressing yourself through writing, crafts, dance, or art
also may be a good tension reliever. Some dance, writing, or art groups may be
available especially for individuals diagnosed with cancer.
Get moving. Regular,
moderate physical activity may be the single best approach to managing stress.
Walking briskly will take advantage of the rapid pulse and tensed muscles
caused by stress and release your pent-up energy. After a long walk, your
stress level is lower and more manageable.
Be kind to your body and mind. Getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious diet,
and taking time to do things you enjoy can contribute to an overall feeling of
balance in your life and help reduce stress.
Get help if you need it. Discuss your concerns with your doctor, counselor,
or other health professional.
Whatever you do to manage stress, you can benefit from the regular
use of relaxation skills.
The following methods of relaxation and meditation are among the
simplest and most effective. They should be done twice a day for about 20
minutes. Pick a time and place where you won't be disturbed or distracted. After
you've trained your body and mind to relax (2 to 3 weeks), you'll be able to
produce that same relaxed state whenever you want.
The way you breathe affects your whole body. Full, deep breathing
is a good way to reduce tension and feel relaxed. The object of roll breathing
is to develop full use of your lungs and get in touch with the rhythm of your
breathing. It can be practiced in any position, but it is best to learn it
lying on your back with your knees bent.
Place your left hand on your abdomen and your
right hand on your chest. Notice how your hands move as you breathe in and
Practice filling your lower lungs by breathing so that your
left hand goes up when you inhale and your right hand remains still. Always
inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
have filled and emptied your lower lungs 8 to 10 times, add the second step to
your breathing: Inhale first into your lower lungs as before, and then continue
inhaling into your upper chest. As you do so, your right hand will rise and
your left hand will fall a little as your abdomen falls.
exhale slowly through your mouth, make a quiet, whooshing sound as first your
left hand and then your right hand falls. As you exhale, feel the tension
leaving your body as you become more and more relaxed.
breathing in and out in this manner for 3 to 5 minutes. Notice that the
movement of your abdomen and chest is like rolling waves rising and falling in
a rhythmic motion.
Practice roll breathing daily for several weeks until you can do it
almost anywhere, providing an instant relaxation tool any time you need
Caution: Some people get dizzy the first few
times they try roll breathing. If you begin to hyperventilate or become
lightheaded, slow your breathing. Get up slowly.
Progressive muscle relaxation
The body responds to stressful thoughts or situations with muscle
tension, which can cause pain or discomfort. Deep muscle relaxation reduces
muscle tension and general mental anxiety, too. Progressive muscle relaxation
is effective in combating stress-related health problems and often helps people
get to sleep.
You can use a prerecorded audiotape to help you go through all the
muscle groups, or you can do it by just tensing and relaxing each muscle group.
Choose a place where you can lie down on your back and stretch out comfortably,
such as a carpeted floor. Tense each muscle group for 4 to 10 seconds (hard but
not to the point of cramping), then give yourself 10 to 20 seconds to release
it and relax.
Now and then take the time to review all the muscle groups. Then relax each one a little more each time you use this method.
How to tense each muscle group
Hands: Clench them.
forearms: Extend them and bend the hands back at the wrist.
and upper arms: Clench your hands into fists, bend your arms at the elbows, and
flex your biceps.
Shoulders: Shrug them.
Wrinkle it into a deep frown.
Around the eyes and bridge of the
nose: Close your eyes as tightly as possible. (Remove contact lenses before
beginning the exercise.)
Cheeks and jaws: Grin from ear to
Around the mouth: Press your lips together tightly. (Check
your facial area for tension.)
Back of the neck: Press your head
Front of the neck: Touch your chin to your chest. (Check
your neck and head for tension.)
Chest: Take a deep breath and hold
it, then exhale.
Back: Arch your back up and away from the
Stomach: Suck it into a tight knot. (Check your chest and
stomach for tension.)
Hips and buttocks: Press the buttocks
Thighs: Clench them hard.
Point your toes toward your face, as if trying to bring the toes up to touch
your head. Then point your toes away and curl them downward at the same time.
(Check the area from your waist down for tension.)
When you are finished, return to alertness by counting backwards
from 5 to 1.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.