Breathlessness can make you feel anxious, frustrated and panicky. All these emotions can cause rapid, shallow breathing, which in turn can make you more breathless.
Learning and practising relaxation can help you control anxiety and breathe more easily when needed. In this section, we explain a relaxation technique that’s easy to do at home.
Try to find a quiet and peaceful place to do these exercises. Make sure you’re comfortable, whether you’re sitting or lying down, with your shoulders, neck and back well supported. Have your arms by your sides or hands resting on your lap. This technique can take practice, so try it for 5–10 minutes once a day to start off with, and then try to do more. Set aside time during the day to practise. It might be helpful to get someone to read the instructions to you.
- Close your eyes.
- Begin by breathing out and then in, just as much as you need. Then breathe out slowly with a slight sigh, like a balloon slowly deflating. Do this once more, as slowly as you can, and as you breathe out feel any tension in your body begin to drain away. Then try to keep your breathing at an even, steady pace.
- Once you feel comfortable doing this, you can move on to the next stage.
- Begin to think of each part of your body in turn.
- Start with your toes and check they are relaxed and comfortable. Allow them to become heavy, and free of any tension.
- Now think about your legs and allow your thighs to relax and roll outwards.
- Next, let your tummy muscles become soft and relaxed.
- Think about your fingers and let them become limp and still. Allow this feeling of relaxation to spread up your arms to your shoulders.
- Let your shoulders relax and drop easily.
- Let your neck muscles relax. Your head is resting and supported. Enjoy this feeling of relaxation.
- Allow your face and expression to relax; make sure your teeth are not clenched and let your jaw rest in a relaxed position.
- Now, as your body feels relaxed, become aware of the all-over sensation of letting go, of quiet, calm and resting. Enjoy this feeling of relaxation. If you find your mind becoming busy again, check where your muscles have tensed and then relax them.
- Gently bring your attention back to the room in which you are in. Have a gentle stretch and open your eyes. Remember to get up slowly once you have finished.
Once you feel comfortable doing the above exercises, it can help to imagine pleasant or tranquil surroundings or to listen to some relaxing music. If you have an MP3 player you can download relaxation podcasts from the internet.
You may want to explore other relaxation techniques. Relaxation CDs and tapes may be available from your local library. Some hospitals, cancer centres and hospices offer breathing control and relaxation sessions. Ask your doctor or nurse whether any are suitable for you.
You might find it helpful to listen to our CD Relax and breathe, which can help you learn ways to manage breathlessness. Call our cancer support specialists for more information or order it free from our website be.Macmillan.