Life After Cancer Treatment: Learning to Relax

Many people with cancer have found that practicing deep relaxation has helped relieve their pain or reduce their stress. The exercises on the next few pages may not be right for everyone. Ask your doctor or nurse if these exercises can help you. Before trying the full exercise below, first practice steps 1 through 5, so you can get used to deep breathing and muscle relaxation.

You may find that your mind wanders. When you notice yourself thinking of something else, gently direct your attention back to your deepening relaxation. Be sure to maintain your deep breathing. If any of these steps makes you feel uncomfortable, feel free to leave it out.

Exercise 1

  1. Find a quiet place where you can rest undisturbed for 20 minutes. Let others know you need this time for yourself.
  2. Make sure the setting is relaxing. For example, dim the lights if you like, and find a comfortable chair or couch.
  3. Get into a comfortable position where you can relax your muscles. Close your eyes and clear your mind of distractions.
  4. Breathe deeply, at a slow and relaxing pace. People usually breathe shallowly, high in their chests. Concentrate on breathing deeply and slowly, raising your belly, rather than just your chest, with each breath.
  5. Next, go through each of your major muscle groups, tensing (squeezing) them for 10 seconds and then relaxing. If tensing any particular muscle group is painful, skip the tensing step and concentrate just on relaxing. Focus completely on releasing all the tension from your muscles and notice the differences you feel when they are relaxed. Focus on the pleasant feeling of relaxation.
    In turn, tense, hold, and relax your:
    • Right and left arms. Make a fist and bring it up to your shoulder, tightening your arm.
    • Lips, eyes, and forehead. Scowl, raise your eyebrows, pucker your lips, and then grin.
    • Jaws and neck. Thrust your lower jaw out, and then relax. Then tilt your chin down toward your chest.
    • Shoulders. Shrug your shoulders upward toward your ears.
    • Chest. Push out your chest.
    • Stomach. Suck in your stomach.
    • Lower back. Stretch your lower back so that it forms a gentle arch, with your stomach pushed outward. Make sure to do this gently, as these muscles are often tight.
    • Buttocks. Squeeze your buttocks together.
    • Thighs. Press your thighs together.
    • Calves. Point your toes up, toward your knees.
    • Feet. Point your toes down, like a ballet dancer's.
  6. Review these parts of your body again and release any tension that remains. Be sure to maintain your deep breathing.
  7. Now that you are relaxed, imagine a calming scene. Choose a spot that is particularly pleasant to you. It may be a favorite comfortable room, a sandy beach, a chair in front of a fireplace, or any other relaxing place. Concentrate on the details:
    • What can you see around you?
    • What do you smell?
    • What are the sounds that you hear? For example, if you are on the beach, how does the sand feel on your feet, how do the waves sound, and how does the air smell?
    • Can you taste anything?
    • Continue to breathe deeply as you imagine yourself relaxing in your safe, comfortable place.
  8. Some people find it helpful at this point to focus on thoughts that enhance their relaxation. For example: "My arms and legs are very comfortable. I can just sink into this chair and focus only on the relaxation."
  9. Spend a few more minutes enjoying the feeling of comfort and relaxation.
  10. When you are ready, start gently moving your hands and feet and bringing yourself back to reality. Open your eyes and spend a few minutes becoming more alert. Notice how you feel now that you have completed the relaxation exercise, and try to carry these feelings with you into the rest of your day.

Practicing Relaxation to Relieve Pain and Stress

Relaxation can help you feel better - both mentally and physically. For most of us, though, it is not easy to "just relax." Relaxation is a skill, and it needs to be practiced, just like any other skill.

Many people wait until they are in a lot of pain or feel a lot of stress before they try to relax, when it can be hardest to succeed. Then they might try to relax by overeating, smoking, or drinking - activities that are not helpful and might even be harmful.

Take the time to learn helpful relaxation skills and practice them often. You can also take a class, buy a relaxation CD, or download a recording from the Internet.

Exercise 2

  1. Sit comfortably. Loosen any tight clothes. Close your eyes. Clear your mind and relax your muscles using steps 4 and 5 above.
  2. Focus your mind on your right arm. Repeat to yourself, "My right arm feels heavy and warm." Stick with it until your arm does feel heavy and warm.
  3. Repeat with the rest of your muscles until you are fully relaxed.

Retrieved from on June 5, 2018.

Document source: 
National Cancer Institute