Relaxation techniques

Breathlessness can make you feel anxious and panicky. These feelings can cause rapid, shallow breathing, which in turn can make you more breathless.

Learning and practising a relaxation technique can help you control anxiety and breathe more easily.

Try to find a quiet and peaceful place to do this exercise. 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 practise, so try it for 5 to 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 for someone to read these 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 feel 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.
  • Slowly bring your attention back to the room that you’re in. Have a gentle stretch and open your eyes. Remember to get up slowly once you’ve finished. If you have effectively relaxed, your blood pressure may have dropped and you may feel dizzy if you get up suddenly. If you bend and stretch your arms and legs a few times before standing up this should soon return to normal.

Once you feel comfortable doing this exercise, it can help to imagine pleasant or tranquil surroundings, or listen to some relaxing music. If you have an MP3 player or a smart phone 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.

Our CD Relax and breathe can help you learn ways to manage breathlessness.

Back to Cancer and breathlessness

Breathlessness and its causes

There are several reasons why you might feel breathless. Your doctor can talk to you about the cause in your situation.