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Relaxation is a broad term that describes strategies used to help a child, teen, or young adult relax when going through medical treatment. Certain relaxation techniques can help them cope with the effects of illness. Methods include deep breathing, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation.
Children, teens, and young adults can use these methods almost anywhere. The approach can change based on age. Relaxation can reduce stress and help with side effects like pain, tiredness, and upset stomach.
Relaxation techniques have many benefits. Relaxation can help:
Research shows relaxation can help with many common problems during treatment, including:
Your child can learn to use these methods on their own. This gives them more control and confidence.
Relaxation methods can also help you. Research shows that if you are calm and relaxed, then your child is more likely to be calm and relaxed.
Children learn how to cope from caregivers. As they see you use a positive approach to handle stress and fear, they can learn to deal with stress and fear, too.
Relaxation techniques include deep breathing, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation.
Breathing exercises help your child use patterns of deep, slow, regular breathing. During stress, breathing is fast and shallow. Heart rate and blood pressure increase. Slow, deep breathing changes brain signals. This helps your child’s mind and body relax.
Breathing techniques can involve breathing in and breathing out while counting to a number. For example: breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4, breathe out for 4.
Other methods focus on how the belly and chest move. For example, your child can place a stuffed animal on their belly and watch it rise and fall. Try different deep breathing exercises to see what works best.
In guided imagery, your child uses their imagination to create pleasant mental images in as much detail as possible, using all 5 senses. This mental picture often includes an image of a favorite place.
Using the imagination can change heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. Seeing positive images reduces stress and anxiety by creating a mental escape.
Guided imagery may help with:
A care provider can lead the guided imagery. Your child can also do the guided imagery on their own. A recording may help guide your child. Music or nature sounds can help them connect to the imagined scenes.
In progressive muscle relaxation, your child tenses and releases small groups of muscles, 1 at a time. A care provider will guide your child to do this slowly, in a specific order (from head to toe, for example).
This technique can be combined with deep breathing or guided imagery. Progressive muscle relaxation can help your child become more aware of their body.
Relaxation techniques are safe for most people. Harmful effects from these strategies are rare. But some could cause negative emotions or worsen existing mental health problems.
Certain methods might work better for some children than for others. Ask your child’s care team before trying any relaxation technique.
The Together by St. Jude™ online resource does not endorse any branded product or organization mentioned in this article.
Reviewed: November 2023