Guide to Controlling Cancer Pain

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Imagery is using your imagination to create mental pictures or situations. The way imagery relieves pain is not fully understood, although it may be simply a combination of relaxation and distraction. Imagery can be thought of as a deliberate daydream that uses all of your senses – sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste. Some people believe that imagery is a form of self-hypnosis.

Certain images may reduce your pain both during imagery and for hours afterward. If you must stay in bed or can’t leave the house, you may find that imagery helps you feel less closed in – you can imagine and revisit your favorite spots in your mind. Imagery can help you relax, relieve boredom, decrease anxiety, and help you sleep.

How to use imagery

Imagery usually works best with your eyes closed. The image can be something like a ball of healing energy moving through your body, or a picture drawn in your mind of yourself as a person without pain. (For example, imagine that you’re cutting the wires that send pain signals from each part of your body to your brain.) Or think of a pleasant, safe, relaxing place or activity that has made you happy. Exploring this place or activity in your mind can help you feel calm.

Here’s an exercise with the ball of energy.

  • Close your eyes. Breathe slowly and feel yourself relax.
  • Focus on your breathing. Breathe slowly and comfortably from your abdomen (belly). As you breathe in, say silently and slowly to yourself, “In, 1, 2.” As you breathe out, say, “Out, 1, 2.” Breathe in this slow rhythm for a few minutes.
  • Imagine a ball of healing energy forming in your lungs or on your chest. It may be like a white light. It can be vague – it doesn’t have to be clear or vivid. Imagine this ball forming, taking shape.
  • When you’re ready, imagine that the air you breathe in blows this healing ball of energy to the area of your pain. Once there, the ball heals and relaxes you.
  • When you breathe out, imagine the air blows the ball away from your body. As it goes, the ball takes your pain with it.
  • Repeat the last 2 steps each time you breathe in and out.
  • You may imagine that the ball gets bigger and bigger as it takes more and more discomfort away from your body.
  • To end the imagery, count slowly to 3, breathe in deeply, open your eyes, and say silently to yourself, “I feel alert and relaxed.” Begin moving about slowly.

Problems that may occur with imagery are much like the ones that occur with the relaxation techniques.

Last Medical Review: 07/15/2015
Last Revised: 07/15/2015