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Stopping the Stress, One Relaxation Technique at a Time

Ackerman Cancer Center

August 16, 2021

A cancer diagnosis can be a life-altering event for patients and their loved ones. Coping with cancer and cancer treatments can be difficult and taxing on your mental and emotional health. It is a journey that can be marked with moments of distress and uncertainty. On top of managing medical care, everyday stressors can also take a toll on a patient’s overall well-being. In the midst of busy schedules and life changes, it can be challenging to prioritize one’s mental health.

Learning and implementing relaxation techniques into everyday life can be a simple and practical way for everyone to play an active role in their own stress management.

Health Benefits of Relaxation Techniques Include:

  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Slowing your breathing rate
  • Improving digestion
  • Reducing activity of stress hormones
  • Increasing blood flow to major muscles
  • Reducing muscle tension and chronic pain
  • Improving concentration and mood
  • Improving sleep quality
  • Lowering fatigue
  • Reducing anger and frustration
  • Boosting confidence in problem solving

Here are three relaxation techniques for you to try out and practice as you navigate through daily stressors and life changes.

 

Relaxation Technique 1:

Square Breathing

Square breathing is a deep breathing exercise that is associated with reduced anxiety/depression, improved cognition function, better sleep, and other health benefits.

The square breathing technique is made up of five steps, which are then repeated in circuits.

Step 1: Slowly Exhale  

Sit in a relaxed, upright position with your hands placed on your lap. Slowly exhale through your mouth while you count to four in your head.

Step 2: Hold Your Breath

Hold your lungs in an empty state for another count of four.

Step 3: Slowly Inhale

Inhale deeply through your nose to a slow count of four. By the time you’ve counted to four, your lungs should be completely filled with air.

Step 4: Hold Your Breath

Hold your breath for another slow count of four.

Step 5: Exhale and Repeat

Exhale again through your mouth for another slow count of four.

Try repeating this cycle for 3-4 rounds.

 

Relaxation Technique 2:

5-4-3-2-1 Technique

The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is a grounding method that can be helpful when you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious.

“Grounding” is defined as “a coping strategy used to ‘ground’ you in, or immediately connect you, with the present moment.”

This technique is also comprised of 5 steps, which can be repeated as necessary to ground you in the present moment.

Step 1: Look For 5 Things You Can See

This step encourages us to really look at our surroundings and to acknowledge what we see there. Notice the texture of the paint on the nearest wall, or the way your clothing falls against your body.

Step 2: Become Aware of 4 Things You Can Touch

Experiencing sensation at the tip of your fingertips as you graze the desk in front of you, or the softness of the sweater you are currently wearing can help ground you in the present moment.

Step 3: Acknowledge 3 Things You Can Hear

Really listening to the noises being made around us not only challenges our minds to focus, but also encourages a peacefulness as we must sit very still and silent to complete this step.

Step 4: Notice 2 Things You Can Smell

If you are struggling to notice any distinct smells around you, try breathing in the smell of your laundry detergent on your clothes or even the smell of your own skin.

Step 5: Become Aware of 1 Thing You Can Taste

This can be as simple as noticing the lingering taste of coffee or gum that you recently enjoyed.

Once the final step is complete, take notice of how your body currently feels. Do you feel calmer? More attuned to your surroundings? Repeat as many times as needed.

 

Relaxation Technique  3:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is an anxiety-reducing technique which involves alternating between tension and relaxation in all of the body’s major muscle groups.

When practicing this technique it is encouraged to find a quiet place and if possible, to lay comfortably on the floor or reclined in a chair. You begin by taking a few intentional deep breaths and trying to relax the rest of your body.

Forehead

Squeeze the muscles in your forehead, holding for 15 seconds. Feel the muscles becoming very tense. Then, slowly release the tension in your forehead while counting for 30 seconds. Notice the difference in how your muscles feel as you relax. Continue to release the tension until your forehead feels completely relaxed. Breathe slowly and evenly throughout this process.

Jaw

Tense the muscles in your jaw, holding for 15 seconds. Then release the tension slowly while counting for 30 seconds. Notice the feeling of relaxation and continue to breathe slowly and evenly.

Neck and Shoulders

Increase tension in your neck and shoulders by raising your shoulders up toward your ears and hold for 15 seconds. Slowly release the tension as you count for 30 seconds. Please continue to focus on how your body feels as the tension slowly releases from your neck and shoulders.

Arms and Hands

Slowly ball both hands into fists. Pull your fists into your chest and hold for 15 seconds, squeezing as tight as you can. Then slowly release while you count for 30 seconds. Notice how your hands feel afterwards.

Buttocks

Slowly increase tension in your buttocks over the span of 15 seconds. Then, slowly release the tension over 30 seconds. Notice the tension melting away. Continue to breathe slowly and evenly.

Legs

Slowly squeeze the muscles in your quadriceps and calves over 15 seconds. Squeeze the muscles as tightly as you can. Then gently release the tension over 30 seconds. Notice the tension melting away and the feeling of relaxation that is left.

Feet

Slowly increase the tension in your feet and toes. Tighten the muscles as much as you can. Then slowly release the tension while you count for 30 seconds. Notice how your body feels after the tension is released.

After working your way through the body, take a moment to notice how your body feels. Are you more relaxed? Feeling tense in some areas more than others? Take the time to truly acknowledge the work your body just did for you and repeat the steps as necessary.

 

Resources:

Visual aids can be useful to help you better understand and practice these relaxation techniques. Below are some videos, links, and illustrations for you to reference as you go through each exercise.

Square Breathing:

https://gfycat.com/finishedobesedormouse

https://blog.zencare.co/square-breathing/

5-4-3-2-1 Technique:

https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/grounding-techniques.pdf

Progressive Muscle Relaxation:

https://wellness.mcmaster.ca/topics/mindfulness-and-relaxation/

https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/progressive-muscle-relaxation-script.pdf

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