Simple breathing and relaxation exercises may be very useful for symptoms like anxiety and breathlessness. Relaxation can sometimes be used together with meditation and visualisation. Almost everyone can learn relaxation techniques. You can learn them at home using a CD, tape or DVD, or you may be able to join a local group. Relaxation resources may be available from your local library.
You can order ourrelaxation CD Relax and breathe from our be.Macmillan website.
Meditation uses concentration or reflection to deeply relax and calm the mind, helping to reduce feelings of fear, pain, anxiety and depression. It can help to practise in a group until you’re familiar with the meditation technique. It’s also good to talk regularly about your meditation to an experienced meditation practitioner.
People who have particular psychiatric conditions, such as psychosis, may find that some types of meditation make their psychiatric illness worse. It’s best to talk to a meditation instructor from an established meditation organisation (and your psychological support team, if necessary) before trying meditation.
Visualisation (creating mental images) is a technique that helps you bring happy, relaxed pictures into your mind and use them to overcome some of the discomfort caused by your symptoms. By ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ images and sounds that bring you pleasure, you may, to some extent, shut out symptoms of pain and discomfort.
Hypnotherapy can help some people deal with symptoms such as pain. It can also be useful in reducing some of the side effects associated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, such as nausea and vomiting. A hypnotherapist leads you into a deeply relaxed state (hypnosis), during which you’re still conscious of your surroundings. The hypnotherapist can then use suggestion to benefit you in different ways, such as feeling better or gaining some control over your symptoms.
If you’re considering a complementary therapy, always use a qualified therapist. The British Complementary Medicine Association can give you the names of registered therapists and advice on what to look for. Talk it over with your doctor or nurse and ask for their advice, especially if you’re going to have a therapy that involves taking pills or medicines. Don’t be misled by promises of cures. No reputable therapist would claim to be able to cure cancer.
Our section on cancer and complementary therapies gives more detail about all these therapies.