Many people find coming in and out of hospital for treatment stressful. One way of creating the “relaxation response” is progressive muscular relaxation. This form of relaxation training is found to be helpful with people coping with physical illness and ongoing medical treatment, and research has demonstrated its calming physical effects. With a little practice, anyone can reap these benefits.
In St Luke’s Radiation Oncology Network, Rathgar, there is a relaxation class that takes place every Thursday at 11am in the ‘Judge Room’ next to C Ward. The classes are facilitated by a member of the psycho-oncology team. Click here for more information on our psycho-oncology services. This class is open to all patients and relatives/carers. There is no need to register. For those that cannot attend that class or prefer to practice relaxation alone we have included audio recordings on this website. These recordings are guides designed to help you relax your whole body and ease your mind.
All of our exercises are recorded by members of the psycho-oncology team in St Luke’s Radiation Oncology Network with the aim of helping you cope better. Feel free to listen in to the exercises here, or download them for your personal use.
Why use relaxation techniques during and after cancer treatment?
Before you start
Audio relaxation exercises
Some people use these techniques to help them relax as they wait for treatments or test results. Others practice these exercises lying down before bedtime, if they find they are having trouble sleeping at night, when they are in pain, or any other times where anxiety or worries might be creating feelings of tension. Some people memorise the visualisation exercise and use it while getting radiotherapy.
When the body is stressed, muscles tense up, which can accumulate in certain areas of the body, most commonly the neck, back and shoulders. Through practice you can learn to distinguish between the feelings of a tensed muscle and a completely relaxed muscle. Then you can begin to “cue” this relaxed state at the first sign of the muscle tension that accompanies your feelings of stress or worry. By tensing and releasing, you learn not only what relaxation feels like, but also to recognise when you are starting to get tense during the day.
Relaxation is a skill, and like other skills, such as playing the piano or tennis, works best when practised on a regular basis. Other techniques, like imagery, help to quiet the mind through pleasant thoughts and distraction. Once muscles relax then the other components of the relaxation response will naturally follow. Relaxed muscles require less oxygen, allowing breathing pattern to slow and deepen. The heart eases the quick beating that is needed to carry oxygen out to tense muscles when stressed. As one’s heart rate and blood pressure decline, normal blood flow returns to the belly and the belly is calmed. Hands and feet warm up. This series of bodily adaptations all start and fall naturally into place because the voluntary muscles are being directed into a state of relaxation.
We encourage you to find the relaxation and visualisation session that best suits you.
Before you start
These audio recordings are a good place to start when you are trying relaxation practice. Each exercise has been carefully designed to give you a good experience. They are all spoken by the psycho-oncology team who are committed to helping you feel better.
Whether you are an inpatient, an outpatient or someone unconnected with St Luke’s radiation Oncology Network, it is important to follow these guidelines:
- These exercises are safe and gentle. If one type makes you uncomfortable in any way, try something different from the menu. If you are worried about whether an exercise is okay for you to complete, ask your doctor.
- You should not experience any physical pain during any of these relaxation exercise. Stop if need be.
- If you become emotionally distressed during or after any of these exercise. Please inform a family member or a friend. Talking helps. If your distress continues please ask your medical team to make a referral to see a Psychologist on the Psycho-oncology services in St Luke’s Radiation Oncology Network. If this is not possible, please contact your GP and/or Irish Cancer Society helpline (1800 200 700).
- Do not listen to these recordings whilst driving or operating heavy machinery
- Try to do these exercises when and where you will not be disturbed.
- Do your best to limit distractions around you, even if that seems impossible. It may help to use headphones and to close your eyes.
- But... don’t let being distracted or disturbed stop you from trying these exercises. On a busy ward or in a busy family, being disturbed is part of life.
- If this is new for you, you may want to start with paying attention to your breathing, and taking some slow, deep breaths.
- Feel free to download and/or copy these exercises for free. They are meant to be shared as widely as possible.
- Try as many relaxation exercises as you can. Everyone is different and it is good to get a feel for what works for you.
- You may fall asleep. This can be a good thing if you’re ready to go to bed. If you don’t want to fall asleep, sit in a hard chair while doing the relaxation exercise or set a timer or alarm.
- Do it again! If it works, do it again! If it doesn't work, do it again (or try another one)! Whenever you feel tense, do it again! Practice helps to improve your ability to use these exercises effectively.
Audio relaxation exercises
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This exercise asks you to go through your body, slowly tensing your muscles, and then relaxing them. It has good research evidence for teaching people how to control the effects of stress on the body and how to notice the difference between a tense and a relaxed muscle. Practice once a day for best results.
If you experience pain, stop tensing and instead imagine tensing that body part or focus on your breathing.
Be careful!! Take care not to hurt yourself while tensing your muscles. You should never feel intense or shooting pain while completing this exercise. Make the muscle tension deliberate, yet gentle.
We have three options with different voices and music.
Relaxation exercise 1:
Relaxation exercise 2:
Relaxation exercise 3:
When our minds are very active, and we have a lot to worry about, sometimes it can help to take a break and think about a peaceful scene. Imagining or visualising a place that gives us a sense of peace and safety can change the way we are feeling and help us to relax. Having a safe place to think about can help us settle our minds.
Safe Place visualisation audio:
10 Top Tips for dealing with cancer
The cancer journey is a difficult time for individuals and their families who will often be faced with challenging emotions. Everyone is different and there is no right or wrong way to feel. It’s normal to wonder, “Why me?” or to feel sad, angry or afraid. It is hoped that these tips will help people to cope psychologically with their diagnosis. The following are a few tips about coping with cancer psychologically.
1. Be informed
Learn what you can do for your health now and about the services available to you and your loved ones. Asking your healthcare team what changes are anticipated or what to expect will help you prepare and give you a greater sense of control. This can be a balancing act - it is important to recognise how much information you can take in and to avoid feeling over whelmed by all of the information available.
2. There is no ‘right’ way to cope
During the cancer journey, you will rely on coping strategies or mechanisms that you are familiar with. You have found ways to cope with different stressors and losses throughout life. You may decide to learn new ways to cope as opposed to relying on just one way. There is no ‘right’ way to cope with a possible life-threatening illness. You are the expert. Explore different ways and do what is right for you.
3. Don’t expect emotions to progress along in neat stages
The experience will unfold as a process and there will be many ups and downs where your needs and emotions may change on a day to day, or sometimes hour-to-hour, basis.
4. Talk to someone you trust
The diagnosis of cancer can be traumatic. It is normal to feel stress, anxiety, sadness, anger or a sense of a loss of control. Finding someone to talk to is important – someone you can trust and can help you sort through your thoughts and feelings. Being open when dealing with emotions helps many people feel less worried and enable them to enjoy each day even a little. Sometimes the disruption caused by cancer can be managed by calling upon available resources within yourself, your family, your circle of friends and support networks. However, sometimes you may feel you would benefit from professional help, such as a psychologist or counsellor, to deal with the disruptions in your personal and family life.
5. Avail of a support group
Studies have shown that many people who take part in support groups have a better quality of life, including better sleep and appetite. Putting your thoughts and feelings into words gives you new ideas about how to deal with them. While speaking in a group is not for everyone, talking with others who are in situations like yours can help ease loneliness. You can also get ideas that might help you from others who have had the same experiences. It is important to note that some people may possibly get this same sense of connection from non cancer specific groups that they belong to such as a choir, a church community or an art class.
6. Be aware of your fears, but practice letting them go
It’s normal for fearful thoughts to enter your mind, but you don’t have to keep them there. Some people picture them floating away, or being vaporised. Others turn them over to a higher power to handle. However you do it, letting go of your fears can free you from wasting time and energy worrying needlessly.
7. Maintain a normal and healthy lifestyle
Take care of yourself. Look after your body through a balanced diet and exercise. Get advice from your health care team as to what may help. If your energy levels have reduced prioritise what is important and pace yourself.
8. Being positive doesn’t always help
Trying too hard to be positive can sometimes make you feel worse. You may be afraid to say how you feel because you want to be ‘brave’ or ‘positive’ but it is not always helpful. Sharing with others that you are finding it difficult is not a weakness. Instead consider it a strength in allowing others to support you.
9. Accept help from those in your life
Sometimes it’s difficult to accept help especially if you were always the one caring for others. When energy is low, let family and friends run errands, provide lifts, prepare meals and help with practical chores. Accepting help from those in your life allows them to have a role in helping you and reduces their experience of helplessness.
10. Focus on the present moment
Focus on the present moment rather than thinking of an uncertain future or a difficult past. If you can find a way to be peaceful inside yourself, even for a few minutes a day, you can start to recall that peace when life becomes busy, scary or confusing.