How the Visualization Technique Can Help Cancer Patients

Visualization, also referred to as guided imagery, is a technique used to focus the mind on images and sensations that quiet the noise of intrusive thoughts.  It is the ability to create a specific experience for oneself.  It is not a first line of treatment nor is it a replacement therapy for cancer. However, studies show that this type of focused relaxation can help increase comfort and decrease anxiety.

How do you create a mind-body connection?

By creating a mental landscape or tapping into a positive memory, you can redirect the mind away from worry or discomfort.  

Selective attention allows a person to focus on a preferred set of thoughts while simultaneously masking or suppressing other sensory information. It is also referred to as the cocktail party effect.

While at a gathering you may absorb the chatter of conversations or other stimuli around you, but your greater focus is on the person with whom you are speaking. You spotlight and attend to what is most important. In the case of visualization, the spotlight is on yourself.

Practicing visualization can also contribute to a sense of control. How? Because the brain is malleable and trainable. Even after the age of 25, the brain is capable of reorganizing neural pathways and creating new ones. Each time you drive a visualization, the stronger your neural pathways can become.  As you strengthen your practice, your brain becomes more adept to responding as if what you are imagining is true in the present moment. So, if the idea of floating under the sun in the Caribbean brings you peace, then by creating that mental scenario and making it palpable, you can counter or minimize anxiety you would otherwise focus on. You can train yourself to create a beautiful or meaningful distraction.

How do you practice visualization?

  • Find a comfortable space and body position.
  • Practice deep belly breathing.  We tend to breathe high in the chest when in an anxious state. Moving the breath down helps regulate the nervous system.  As you do so, you may find that your heart rate decreases and blood pressure may lower without even consciously thinking about it.
  • Imagine a scene that makes you feel content.
  • Incorporate all five senses to create the most vivid imagery possible.
    (For example: See the sun, sky, water, and horizon line. Hear ocean waves. Feel the sand and the salty spray of the surf. Smell the ocean air. Imagine tasting your favorite drink.)
  • Create depth to your vision and take time to appreciate all the details. Wholly experience it. Continue steady breathing.
  • Remember that you can return to your story at any time.
  • Practice regularly. The more frequently you practice, the easier it will be to call upon your imagination.

What Mental Picture Helps You?

Some patients might feel empowered by visualizing the destruction of cancer cells. Other patients might prefer to picture a favorite spot, such as a beach or a forest. Try different scenarios.

Here’s a sample visualization that can start you on your practice:

Imagine walking through a forest. You can smell the damp earth beneath you and the scent of pine trees. You hear the rustling of leaves as squirrels and birds flit through the brush and trees. Your footsteps are rhythmic and audible, softly crunching along the trail, over tiny rocks and fallen branches. Occasionally  you hear the powerful boost of black crows’ wings as they fly overhead. You see the dappled patterns the emerging sun makes as it filters through the canopy of trees. Your jacket has kept you warm, but as you leave the forested section of your walk,  onto a more exposed trail, you can feel the brilliance of the sun getting closer. Now you can feel the full sun on your face. You start to remove your layers. You sip from your water bottle, and it tastes cool and refreshing. When you close your eyes, face up to the sun, you can see speckled orange through your closed eyelids. Whether you continue to walk or stay and rest, you feel the sun getting stronger. It warms you. It gives you energy. Continue breathing deeply.

You can practice visualization with a licensed practitioner or on your own. No matter what approach you take, guided imagery can help you focus the mind on what matters most in the moment—your comfort and wellbeing.

The doctors and staff at Minnesota Oncology are here to help. We have served the Twin Cities for over 25 years. 
Please call (844) 317-4673 or Request Appointment for additional information or a consultation.

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