Do you ever want to whisk yourself away to a remote location, where all your worries and stresses are left behind?
You can, in your mind’s eye.
Guided imagery (GI) involves a focus of the imagination and the senses. It is a form of relaxation that promotes harmony between the body and mind.
GI is a full sensory, full-body experience. People are guided to imagine a relaxing place and the way it sounds, smells, tastes and feels.
For example, imaging a serene beach would involve smelling the salt in the air, hearing the waves and feeling the breeze and sand.
Integrating all the senses stimulates the connection between body and mind, while peaceful imagery gently guides the mind and body into a state of relaxation.
In this way, GI becomes a powerful and healthy coping strategy for dealing with stress. Those who use it regularly notice quicker and longer-lasting benefits.
Some of those benefits include:
- Better sleep
- Increased immunity
- Reduced anxiety, pain, fatigue and nausea
Guided imagery is led by a qualified practitioner and is available in person or by listening to recorded audio on CDs or online.
Online you can find guided imagery made specifically for cancer patients, such as guided imagery on reducing pain and anxiety. Some guided imagery is available for free.
Guided Imagery Boosts the Immune System
A number of studies conducted within the past decade revealed the direct immune-boosting benefits of GI.
Research shows GI can increase the following immune cells and proteins:
- White blood cells
- Natural killer cells
- Activated T cells
- Lymphokine-activated killer cells
- Tumor necrosis factor-alpha
The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine determined in 2007 that hypnotic guided imagery significantly increased natural killer cells, which attack cancer cells and viruses.
In 2008, a critical review published in the International Journal of Neuroscience confirmed that GI can counteract stress and boost the immune system. It also described how cell-specific imagery affects corresponding white blood cells, neutrophils and lymphocytes.
A year later, a UK study of GI’s impact on breast cancer patients demonstrated a significant increase in natural killer cells, activated T cells and lymphokine-activated killer cells before and after chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
In 2011, an MD Anderson study taught GI and diaphragmatic breathing to prostate cancer patients to see if stress management before surgery improved immune outcomes. Turns out it does. The group using GI had significantly increased natural killer cell power and higher levels of interleukin-2 and tumor necrosis factor.
Other Types of Imagery
Guided imagery is one of several types of imagery that promotes relaxation and well-being.
Palming is a form of imagery that involves the visualization of color. Palms are placed over the eyes and the practitioner envisions a color to represent stress, often shades of red. The practitioner then consciously changes the color to a more relaxing hue, such as shades of blue or green.
Goal and process imagery involves visualization of achieving a goal, as well as the process necessary to reach the goal. For someone with cancer, this could involve visualizing the steps it will take to successfully recover from surgery. The vision may include healthy responses to setbacks, as well as ways to celebrate progress.
Dream imagery may contain significant meaning. Some people keep a dream journal to keep track of dreams and discover patterns or deeper meaning as a result.
Cancer patients may find goal and process imagery equally beneficial to guided imagery, because it helps them envision a positive future outcome. Adding other types of imagery to a regular GI practice may enhance the mind-body connection and promote emotional well-being.
Questions and Answers from the December 2015 Support Group
Patients and caregivers asked a number of questions during the recent online support group. Here we include answers to some of them.
Q: Can I call a Patient Advocate at The Mesothelioma Center to ask questions about the validity of specific complementary and alternative therapies?
A: Yes, Patient Advocates are available seven days a week, days and nights, to answer questions related to mesothelioma. We regularly receive questions about complementary and alternative therapies and have many reputable resources to share on those therapies.
Q: My loved one is having tremendous difficulty sleeping at night because of anxiety. Are there any medications that could help?
A: Anxiety is common among people with cancer. Doctors commonly prescribe anti-anxiety medication to cancer patients and these medications are effective at controlling anxiousness.
Your doctor can help you pinpoint the cause of sleeplessness and anxiety. Sometimes, uncontrolled pain is at the root of these symptoms. Talking with your doctor about your symptoms will help determine the best course of treatment.
Q: Is it OK for me to get a flu shot if I’m about to start chemotherapy?
A: This question is best answered by your cancer doctor, called an oncologist. Your oncologist knows your case best and can provide guidance on when you should get a flu shot.
In general, cancer patients undergoing treatment are strongly encouraged to get an annual flu shot. Cancer patients cannot take the live vaccine, which is available in the form of a nasal spray. They should only take the dead, inactivated vaccine, which is available as a shot.
Cancer patients over the age of 65 can safely take the high-dose flu shot, which promotes immune response in older people. However, you should check with your oncologist to make sure which flu vaccine is right for you.
After receiving the vaccine, it takes two weeks for the body to build immunity against the flu.