Living with cancer blog

Using imagery to meditate can help with stress of cancer

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. February 2, 2016

I recently helped a young woman at the Cancer Education Center who asked about our meditation and relaxation sessions. She told me she was dealing with a new diagnosis of breast cancer and had two young children at home. She was quite stressed and reached out for help.

As I was showing her the resources and tools available, I asked if she had 5-10 minutes to try a guided imagery exercise. She was surprised that in such a short time, I could walk her through getting started with this type of relaxation exercise. She agreed, and we got started.

Here’s what we did, and what you can do.

  • Start by finding a quiet and comfortable place to sit.
  • Let your body gently relax, including your shoulders and arms.
  • Close your eyes and breathe in slowly through your nose (count to 4). Exhale slowly, again counting to 4.
  • Once you have a steady breathing rhythm, your body will start to relax.
  • Now, imagine a place of peace and relaxation. This could be a place you remember or a place you'd like to be. It may also include being with a person who brings you happiness and joy.
  • Use all of your senses to picture and experience this. What/who do you see? What do you hear? Do you smell anything? What do you feel?
  • With each of these questions, go deeper into the meditation to create the sensation that the place is alive in your mind — like you're actually there.
  • Don't worry about doing it right or wrong — just enjoy the experience.

Once she was deep into meditation, I gave her a few minutes without saying anything to really get into the imagery. After 5 minutes, I gently had her open her eyes. She looked so different than when I had first met her, it was a dramatic change. Her eyes were now warm and joyful, her body was relaxed and she had a beautiful smile on her face.

When I asked if she'd share what she'd imagined, she said it was sitting in a comfortable chair next to the fireplace in her grandmother's house. She said she could smell bread baking and could even hear the hardwood floor creaking as her grandmother walked toward her to greet her.

She saw her grandmother's face and felt the warmth of the fire. Being with her grandmother is one of her favorite memories. She felt safe, loved and at peace.

We talked about how your mind can have a powerful influence on your body. If you're in a place of peace and relaxation, your body also relaxes. I encouraged her to use this imagery any time that she felt stress taking over.

Learning to relax is more than just getting away from stressors, because your mind can still be thinking about stress. Taking the mind to a relaxed place through imagery can be effective for most people. Once you learn how to use guided imagery, you can use it when and where you need to.

Try this exercise and share your thoughts or previous experiences using guided imagery. What did you notice and how do you feel it might help you?


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

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Feb. 02, 2016