Guided Imagery Reduces Stress and Anxiety During Radiation Therapy

Guided Imagery Reduces Stress and Anxiety During Radiation Therapy

Discover how a visualization technique called guided imagery helped decrease stress and relieve anxiety in patients who were undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer. 

Just the thought of undergoing radiation therapy can trigger stress and anxiety. It’s a natural reaction, and doctors are always looking for ways to help patients manage it. One possible solution is guided imagery. A study from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center showed this visualization technique was an easy and effective tool for relieving stress and anxiety.

During the 2009 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center presented findings from their study on guided visualization. The technique involves imagining you’re in a relaxing situation or visualizing a positive outcome. Although you are directing your imagination, all of the senses become involved as you imagine sights, sounds and feelings. The body, mind and emotions work together as one.

Guided imagery is a perfect example of mind over matter.

Guided Imagery Can Be Good for Your Health

The Beth Israel researchers selected participants who were undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer. The participants were taught how to focus on a pattern of breathing and gradually relax their muscles. Once relaxed, they visualized themselves in a comfortable and safe place, focusing on specific characteristics about that place to sustain a sense of strength and calm.

The 68 participants used guided imagery before each daily radiation treatment and were given a CD to help them practice at home. The women also used a diary to track their use of the technique.

Next, researchers needed to conduct scientific measurements to determine the affects of using guided imagery. Each participant was evaluated before and after the sessions. Researchers found after the use of guided imagery:

  • Pulse rates decreased.
  • Systolic and diastolic blood pressure decreased.
  • Respiration rates decreases.
  • Skin temperatures increased (which indicated increased peripheral capillary flow).  

In addition to the body’s positive response, participants expressed high levels of satisfaction with this integrative method. All 68 participants said they would recommend the use of guided imagery to others.

How to Positively Direct Your Focus With Guided Imagery

The beauty of guided imagery is that anyone can do it, and there’s no equipment or tools needed. We can all harness the power of our imagination to possibly reduce stress and improve our health.

You can begin practicing guided imagery today with these tips:

  • Set aside at least 15 minutes for the visualization.
  • Find a place that’s comfortable, quiet and free of distraction before you begin.
  • Turn off all of your devices, so there are no interruptions.
  • Focus on letting your thoughts and emotions flow without analyzing them.
  • Don’t worry about getting it right—self-evaluation can hinder the process.

If you’d like to learn more about guided imagery, you can reference the guides created by the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Some people also find it’s helpful to have a coach. A guided imagery practitioner can walk you through the techniques until you get the hang of it on your own. You can find a qualified guided imagery practitioner through the Academy for Guided Imagery

This material is furnished for informational purposes and is for your personal use only. It is not intended as a substitute for the expertise, judgment and specific advice of your doctor. Based on your condition and treatment plan, you may have different medical needs. Please talk with your doctor before making changes to your care plan.

Guided Imagery Reduces Stress and Anxiety in Patients Undergoing Radiation Therapy. Adapted Excerpt December 11, 2009, from