Q. Since I've been diagnosed, I've been anxious and sometimes feel overwhelmed by my thoughts, which I can't seem to "turn off." Are there any ways I can help myself to feel more calm?

A.

Anxiety is a natural emotional experience for eveyone. When someone has to cope with a cancer diagnosis, anxiety (or worry) can increase, intruding on an individual’s ability to regain a sense of calm, clear his or her thoughts and feel more control over the issue at hand. Chronic anxiety can lead to fatigue and depression over time, so it is important to find techniques that can offer relief from the stress of cancer, even if just for short periods of time.

When confronted with crisis, our bodies trigger a “fight or flight” response. Part of this physical response is rapid, shallow breathing, which increases blood flow through the heart and puts extra oxygen into our bodies. A person under chronic stress will continue to take shorter, more shallow breaths, which will in increase stress and create a continual state of anxiety.

Here’s a simple breathing exercise that can help calm you:

  • Sitting down, place one hand on your chest and the other over your navel.
  • Take three breaths and observe your breathing. For most people, the chest area tends to rise more than the abdomen.
  • Now, take in a deep breath and extend your abdomen. Picture your lungs as long, narrow balloons, filling up from the end to the front; and from the bottom to the top.
  • Hold the breath and silently count to five; then, exhale loudly.
  • Do this for three breaths and then sit quietly for a moment. If you feel lightheaded, hold the next breath for a shorter time. Most people find there is a calming feeling that follows.

The beauty of this exercise is you can do it anywhere, anytime. The goal is to reduce stress by returning yourself to a natural state of breathing.

You can find more relaxation techniques in CancerCare’s fact sheet, Relaxation Techniques and Mind/Body Practices: How They Can Help You Cope With Cancer.