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Managing stress

There are many different ways to manage stress. If you’re feeling stressed, keep trying until you find the ones that work for you. Because everyone feels and handles stress differently, everyone will also have their own way of managing it.

Be sure to talk to your healthcare team if you’re having trouble handling stress on your own. They may suggest taking a class that teaches different ways to manage stress or refer you to a self-help group, support program or professional.

Venting emotions

You may feel as though you need to get rid of some tension or emotions quickly, before you explode. You can try different things to vent emotions like anger or frustration including:

  • having a good cry
  • putting on some loud music and screaming
  • safe physical activities such as punching a pillow
  • writing down your feelings in a journal or diary

Venting emotions in any of these ways usually doesn't hurt anyone else and may help you feel better.

Creative pursuits

Many people find that distraction techniques or creative pursuits help them safely release their feelings. Try something – and if it helps, try it again. Experiment with:

  • drawing or painting
  • writing poetry or stories
  • singing or making music
  • dancing


Although cancer isn’t a funny subject, some people find that laughter helps them deal with the disease. Using laughter to relieve tension doesn’t mean you aren’t taking the disease seriously. It’s okay to laugh. When a person laughs, their brain releases chemicals that relax muscles and make them feel good. So don’t hesitate to watch your favourite funny movie or read your favourite funny book again. Or call a friend to tell them about the silly thing your pet did. You just might feel better afterwards.

Learning to relax

Learning to relax your body and mind – even for short periods each day – can help you feel better, calmer and more in control. Meditation and relaxation can help you cope with emotions, pain and other symptoms. Avoid using alcohol or other drugs (illegal, over-the-counter or herbal) to relax and cope with cancer. Talk to your doctor if you find yourself turning to alcohol or drugs.

Instructional books or DVDs can teach you about different ways of relaxing or you might find a class helpful.

Most relaxation techniques can be done sitting up or lying down. Some people like to listen to music through earphones or a headset. To begin:

  • Choose a quiet place and get comfortable.
  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Stare at an object or close your eyes and think of a peaceful scene.
  • Concentrate on your breathing for a minute or two.

Relaxation techniques

Two examples of relaxation techniques are tension-relaxation and rhythmic breathing.

Relaxation techniqueDescription


Do this for a few minutes several times a day.

  • Take a slow, deep breath.
  • While breathing in, tense a certain muscle or group of muscles, such as making a fist or stiffening arms or legs.
  • Hold your breath and keep your muscles tense for a second or two.
  • Then breathe out and let your body go limp. Feel the tension drain away.
  • Try starting with one group of muscles and move up or down the entire body. For example, start with the feet and legs, then tighten and relax the stomach and back muscles. Then finish by relaxing the arm, neck and face muscles.

rhythmic breathing

  • Take slow, deep breaths, keeping a slow rhythm.
  • Keep saying to yourself, “In, 1, 2. Out, 1, 2.”
  • Each time you breathe out, relax and go limp.
  • To end rhythmic breathing, count silently and slowly from 1 to 3.


Meditation quiets the mind. As the mind becomes quiet, muscles relax and heart rate and breathing slow down. There are many different types of meditation. Information on how to do meditation is available from a number of resources. Local groups or centres that offer classes are often listed in local phone books.

  • Try meditating by sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing without trying to control it.
  • Try to empty your mind of thoughts. If thoughts enter the mind, refocus on your breathing.
  • You can also try focusing on a saying, like “I am calm,” or focus on a picture or object.

Meditation can be hard at first, but it gets easier with practice.

Guided imagery or visualization

Guided imagery or visualization is a kind of daydreaming.

  • Breathe slowly and deeply.
  • Imagine a ball of healing energy forming somewhere in the body. Imagine with each breath in, that the ball of energy is being carried to the part of the body that is tense.
  • With each breath out, picture the air moving the ball away from the body, taking the tension with it.
  • Continue to picture the ball moving toward and away from the body with each breath in and out. Picture the ball carrying more and more tension away.
  • To end the imagery, count slowly to 3. Breathe in deeply, open your eyes.


You may already use distraction to manage stress without realizing it. Any activity that holds your attention or takes your mind off worries or discomfort can be a useful distraction technique. Some examples are:

  • watching TV or movies
  • listening to music
  • reading a book
  • doing needlework
  • working on a puzzle
  • going shopping
  • taking walks
  • visiting friends


Massage can be very relaxing. It often relieves tension and can make you feel more comfortable. Talk with your healthcare team before you have a massage to make sure it’s okay. They may have some guidelines for the massage therapist to follow, such as restricting the massage to certain areas of the body, or only using gentle, stroking motions on some areas. Ask your healthcare team if they know of a registered massage therapist who has experience in working with people with cancer.


Many people find they feel better, have more energy and are less stressed when they take part in physical activities such as swimming, walking or biking. You can often continue to exercise during and after cancer treatment, as long as your healthcare team says it’s okay and as long as you feel up to it. Talk to your healthcare team before trying a new activity or if you have questions about exercise.

Yoga and tai chi are two gentle but effective forms of exercise that can help relieve tension. Yoga combines exercise for the body with breathing exercises and focus for the mind. Most types of yoga can be modified for people at various stages of health. Tai chi is slow and rhythmic movement. It is often called moving meditation. Tai chi improves balance of the body and the mind. Check with a community association or local phone book for instructors.


Eleanor Rudd We realize that our efforts cannot even be compared to what women face when they hear the words ... ‘you have cancer.’

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