Relaxation and cancer treatment

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Relaxation is a skill that you can learn and practice over time. Find out why you should practice relaxation and when to use these techniques.

Key points

  • Stress and tension can make cancer symptoms and treatment side effects worse.
  • Relaxation is a skill you can learn to help relax your muscles and control your breathing.
  • Relaxation can help to reduce the effects of stress, give you more energy and help you manage emotions such as fear or anger.
  • Practice relaxation techniques every day so that you can use them when you feel pain, strong emotions or tension.

For more videos regarding teens and cancer, please visit the Teens Taking Charge Cancer playlist.

What is relaxation?

Stress and discomfort can cause you to tense your muscles and hold your body in unusual ways. The tension makes muscles tired and tight instead of loose and relaxed.

Tension can be different for everyone. For example, some people have tension in their neck while others clench their teeth or even feel the tension in their stomach. Stress and tension can make your cancer symptoms and treatment side effects worse.

Relaxation is a way to relax muscles all over your body. It’s a skill you can learn and improve with practice. Just like playing the guitar or baseball, the more you practice, the better you get. When you are relaxed, your body and your muscles are loose. You will also notice your breathing become slow and deep.

Why it is important to learn to relax

Remember that everyone experiences stress. Sometimes you can have stress and tension without even knowing it.

Relaxation can:

  • help reduce the effects of stress on your body
  • give you more energy and make you feel more alert
  • help you manage strong emotions such as fear or anger by reducing the effects of stress
  • help you concentrate and think more clearly
  • improve your memory
  • improve how you sleep at night
  • help you enjoy things more
  • help reduce the pain associated with procedures.

Relaxation can sometimes be more effective than medication in reducing pain from headaches.

Even if you may not be familiar with relaxation techniques, you probably have relaxed in other ways. For example, you may already relax by lying on your bed and listening to music. Or maybe you take a hot bath to relax. There are many relaxing activities to choose from.

Learning how to relax

  • Sit on your favourite, most comfortable chair or couch to practice the relaxation techniques.
  • Keep your legs and arms uncrossed. This will help your blood move through your body more easily.
  • Try not to use your bed the first time – you might fall asleep! Later on you can use the relaxation techniques to help you fall asleep faster.
  • Practice the exercises in a quiet place. You might need to put a sign up saying "Do Not Disturb – Relaxation in Progress."

When to use the relaxation techniques

  • It’s a good idea to practise the relaxation techniques every day. You might need to practise them several times a day at the start to become good at them.
  • You can also use relaxation when you are starting to feel pain, strong emotions, anxiety or tension in your body. Set a goal for how many times a week you will practise.
  • Try to do the relaxation exercises at the same time each day (for example, before school or right after school), but be ready to use them whenever you need them.
  • Remember, the more you practise, the better these techniques will work!

Longer exercises often are more relaxing and effective, but even "mini-exercises" such as one deep breath can still make a difference for you.

The next few pages will teach you how to relax your muscles. Once you are good at this, you can practise mini-exercises that will help you to relax quickly.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019