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Easing Stress Using Guided Imagery

image of reflecting stones

“Sometimes I just feel overwhelmed.”

“I often feel so powerless, and that’s when the stress can get to me.”

“I don’t want my family and friends to know that I’m so worried.”

These feelings are common among people whose lives are affected by cancer. Cancer disrupts and interrupts schedules, plans and dreams. Emotions can be very intense and our sense of control over our feelings or any other aspect of our lives can be quite challenged. This lack of control can result in fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, grief and even self-judgments.

How do we get through these very difficult times? (Good question!) What if we were able to access our own internal resources to help us get through? (Even better question!)

We're offering five different methods you can use to help when you feel overwhelmed with emotions or just feel scared. These methods are shown by research to be effective. Even better, our patients tell us these tips help.

Each short video focuses on a different behavior: breathing, movement, touch, self-talk and imagination.

First strategy to ease stress: Using your breath

The most basic and important thing to do when you’re faced with an upsetting situation is breathe. When stressed, many of us tend to "catch our breath" and hold it. The video shows you how to break this pattern and make use of the simple act of inhaling and exhaling.

Second strategy for easing stress: Move

Guided imagery offers ways to move -- even when you feel you can't

“Will it hurt? Because if it’s going to hurt, I need to brace myself. I need to tighten all my muscles and try to be motionless so it won’t hurt much.”

“I’m so tired I can’t move a muscle. I need to curl up in a ball and stay put.”

“I found myself frozen with fear.”

Maybe you’ve had moments or days when getting up or moving seemed overwhelming. Days when you were too tired, nervous or just too scared about what might happen.

In such moments and on such days, your best choice may be to actually move. If your doctor told you NOT to move, then don't. In general, most doctors suggest we do keep moving. The fact is: the more we move, the more we are ABLE to move and the better we feel.

This following video outlines the reasons why movement can also help you feel more in control. There's some simple suggestions for moving (from wiggling your fingers and toes to taking a walk).

In a nutshell: our common response to tiredness, pain or fear is to constrict — to tighten muscles; to hold our breath; to clench our joints. These responses actually increase our discomfort and intensify fatigue, pain or fear. So, encouraging — sometimes willing — ourselves to move is so very helpful.

Third strategy to ease stress: touch

Guided imagery helps you soothe yourself during difficult times.

When you are feeling anxious or disquieted, one of the quickest methods to feel better is to touch something soothing. There’s a reason people have been attracted to “worry stones.” The tactile sensation of rubbing something smooth is comforting. We have a physiological response to touching an object that is soft or even or polished. That response results in an “ahhhh” sensation that is comforting or quieting. Think about pulling out your winter fleece or perhaps recalling your “blankie” when you were quite young.

This is a good strategy: carry a small, comforting object in your pocket. When you’re feeling nervous or scared touch it. It’s a quick, easy way to regain some sense of comfort and control. Best of all: no one needs to know you have it.

The following video gives you even more ideas about the comforting power of touch.

Fourth strategy to ease stress: self-talk

Guided Imagery helps quiet negative thoughts.

“Don’t be such a baby!”

“Quit worrying!”

“Just relax!”

When we sense ourselves becoming anxious or fearful, our internal voice can escalate its efforts to reign in our feelings or change our behavior. It’s often in a tone and intensity that is anything but kind, caring or that inspires self-comfort. Some of us refer to this inner commentator as an “inner critic” or an “inner tyrant.” That voice takes its job very seriously: to help us feel safe or be successful or to hold ourselves together through a difficult time. And as earnest as we are, such negative or “loud” self-talk is rarely effective for helping us “bump it down a notch.”

In this video, you will get suggestions about how to soothe the frightened inner critic and allow some self-acceptance and breathing space.

Fifth strategy to ease stress: imagination

Your imagination is a powerful tool! It can transport you into moments of pleasure or moments of pain. It can help you picture your hopes, dreams and even your worries and fears.

Maybe you’ve noticed that where your mind goes your body follows.

Imagine a busy day. You're late and you can’t find your keys. Maybe the dog got out and won't come back. Or, maybe you are in a traffic jam that's making you late. Just picturing these things is enough to make some of us tense with shallow breathing. For others, it may make them clench hands or teeth. There’s a physical reaction to the picture created in our mind.

On the other hand, if you imagine yourself in a lovely, safe, care-free, relaxing place or situation you know that your body will follow with an “ahhhh” response. Tension melts away. You're breathing and heart rate slow down.

And perhaps you’re already aware that when one’s life is affected by cancer, one’s imagination, one’s senses are frequently “on alert.” Sensations can generate all sorts of images in our mind – often worrisome.

The following video offers suggestions for harnessing the power of your imagination.

Learn more about guided imagery and ways to manage stress and anxiety:

Support Available On-Line

The Cancer Support Community is offering online resources nation-wide through their local chapters. Visit the Cancer Support Community website for more information and to find the chapter closest to you.

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