When you’re undergoing radiation therapy, feeling stress and anxiety is normal. You’re likely geared up to fight your cancer. But, surprisingly, learning how to relax is one of your best defenses. And the benefits of using relaxation techniques can last long after your treatment ends.
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Cancer marches in and tries to take control of your life. It has a profound effect on you and everyone you love. But feeling stressed out isn’t good for you at any point in your life.
Moving beyond your stress is key
Stress isn’t a bad thing in small doses. It’s a normal response to life’s changes, good and bad. It helps us decide how to react and adapt to new circumstances. But over time stress can take a toll on you, physically and mentally.
Finding out you have cancer and starting treatment can present so many changes you may feel that you can’t keep up, says radiation therapist Tracy Palmison, RT (R) (T).
“People react in different ways, from anger to denial to acceptance,” Ms. Palmison says. “But they often share the feeling they’ve lost control of their bodies and their daily lives.”
Relaxation techniques can help your mind get the mental reset it needs to process change and move beyond panic mode. The techniques also help minimize the physical effects of stress on the body, whether it’s addressing aches and pains or fatigue.
Here are Ms. Palmison’s four tactics to find your peaceful center during radiation therapy.
1. Just breathe
Calm, even breathing sends a message to your body that it’s OK to come off of red-alert. Just a single minute of focused deep breathing can help you manage your stress.
2. Stay active
Try your best to stay active with some sort of physical activity, even if it’s simply taking a short walk. For many people, physical activity can help you feel less stressed and tired during therapy. It’s important, however to listen to your body and only do what you are able.
3. Follow your muse
Whether it’s with a paintbrush or block of clay, art therapy can help you express yourself and focus on creating something positive. Art therapists, who are specially trained in this kind of therapy, can guide and support you in creating art that can reduce anxiety and help you relax.
4. Embrace an indulgence
Ms. Palmison encourages you to take advantage of complementary massages, facials and other hands-on services offered by your treatment center. These indulgences can go a long way toward easing muscle tension and pain.
Marshal your resources — and accept some help
You are likely managing your treatments in addition to work, home and family obligations, Ms. Palmison says. So it’s important to take advantage of all the help your care team can offer — beyond relaxation techniques.
The team is your guide to family resources, support groups and other services to help reduce the stresses you’re facing.
“Ask us questions, cry on our shoulders, share your experiences and learn that you are not alone,” Ms. Palmison says.
Let that care-team spirit extend to your family and friends, too.
“Accept help with transportation, child care or other tasks when family members offer, and be open to talking to them about what you’re experiencing,” she says. “It’s good for you and lets them be an active part of your support network.”