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Cancer and Stress: A Simple, Quick Technique to Help You Relax

Even a busy day in our “normal” life can send our thoughts spinning and our pulses racing as we struggle to figure it all out and get it all done. But when you add in something as serious as cancer (or any long-term illness), the stress and uncertainty can become overwhelming. It’s helpful to have some techniques at the ready for when you need to calm down and bring yourself back to the present moment.

I wrote We Were Better Together: Navigating Cancer as a Couple, a cancer guide for patients and those helping a sick partner to share some of what I’ve learned through my own journey with my wife Melissa. We didn’t have a great cancer book at the time. That being said, the below technique, called “Square Breathing” or “Box Breathing,” which was taught to me by Dr. Alise Bartley, a psychologist specializing in relationships and family therapy, works in any situation–I use it all the time!

In the book, you’ll find many more tips and techniques for everything from coping skills to honest conversations about intimacy during illness, plus expert guidance from top physicians and holistic providers to support your journey through cancer.

To try Square Breathing, you don’t need any fancy equipment or clothing, and you can use this technique for just a few minutes or for however long you like, wherever you are. It’s simply focusing on your breath in a specific pattern. Let’s get right to it:

 If you prefer, you can also choose a word or “intention” to focus on, such as “healing” or “calm” or whatever works for you. Some people like to picture the breath traveling around a square shape, but most important is just to focus on your breath and the count.

  1. Sit with your back supported and close your eyes.
  2. Inhale slowly for a count of 4 (1,2,3,4).
  3. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
  4. Slowly exhale for a count of 4.
  5. If you have time, repeat a few more cycles.

Get your copy of We Were Better Together: Navigating Cancer as a Couple

Bob Shearer

Bob Shearer (5)

Robert J. Shearer is the co-founder, former CEO and chairman of Shearer Foods. During his 40-year tenure, he scaled the company to a multi-million-dollar enterprise, receiving accolades from numerous trade and business organizations. For his entrepreneurial achievements, Shearer has been recognized by Ernst & Young, Crain’s Cleveland Business and the Northeast Ohio Business Hall of Fame. A former chairman of SNAC International, Shearer also served on numerous boards and is a frequent keynote speaker on entrepreneurship. He divides his time between Florida, Arizona and Ohio.

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