Relaxation techniques

There are simple and effective ways to reduce the feelings of stress, tension, and anxiety through breathing and relaxation. If you practice these techniques every day, they can help reduce the stress you may feel about your surgery.

These techniques can also be helpful to use while you are still in the hospital after surgery to help reduce feelings of pain or nausea, and to help you sleep.

Tips for using relaxation techniques

  • Sit or lie in a comfortable position. Use pillows to support your head and legs, if needed.
  • Close your eyes to help reduce distractions. If you are not comfortable with closing your eyes, focus your eyes downward or on a specific spot in front of you.
  • Practice relaxation for five to 10 minutes, one or two times each day. These techniques will still be effective if you can only practice for one to two minutes each day.
  • You do not need to follow any technique exactly. Try a variety of techniques and take from each one the parts that are most helpful. Change any breathing technique to make them easier for you to use.
  • Allow your body to breathe naturally and easily.
  • Try to breathe out (exhale) longer than you breathe in (inhale). Sometimes breathing in through your nose and breathing out through your mouth can help you control your breathing more easily. This will help keep you from taking breaths that are shallow or gasping. It will also help you avoid hyperventilating.
  • When you practice a breathing technique, imagine that you are:
    • breathing in relaxation and breathing out stress
    • breathing in an image of a relaxing place and breathing out the image of tension and pain
  • When you practice a technique, quietly say to your self "I am" as you breathe in. As you breathe out, say quietly to your self "calm" (or you can also use "peaceful" or "relaxed").
  • You can also listen to soothing music while you practice relaxation if it helps.

Try one or more of the following relaxation techniques as you prepare for your surgery.

Breathe to relax

  • Sit or lie in a comfortable position.
  • Put your hand gently over your belly button and leave it there as you practice this technique.
  • Imagine you have a balloon underneath your belly button that you blow up when you breathe in.
  • Breathe in through your nose and pull the air deep into your lungs. Feel your belly gently rise up under your hand as you breathe in. Keep your breath gentle and smooth.
  • Breathe out slowly through pursed lips (like a whistle). Feel your belly move down under your hand, like a balloon deflating.
  • With each slow, deep breath, let the feeling of relaxation spread down through every part of your body, from your head to your toes.
  • Continue this relaxation for at least one to two minutes. Try working up to five to 10 minutes over time.
  • Notice how your shoulders feel as you do this technique. Try to keep your shoulders from rising up while inhaling. Don't worry if they do, this will lessen as you practice this technique.
  • It may not be easy at first to relax your belly enough to feel it rise, but the more you practice the easier it will be.

Tense-and-release muscle relaxation

  • Sit or lie in a comfortable position. Use pillows to support your body, if needed.
  • Keep all of your joints flexed and supported. Do not rest one body part on another.
  • Take a deep breath and relax. During the exercise, breathe naturally and easily.
  • Contract the muscles of your forehead. Release.
  • Close your eyes tightly. Release.
  • Clench your teeth and jaw. Release.
  • Draw your shoulders up toward your ears. Release.
  • Make fists and straighten your elbows. Release.
  • Take a deep breath, expand your chest and hold. Release.
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles. Release.
  • Squeeze your buttocks together. Release.
  • Tighten your pelvic muscles. Release.
  • Tighten your thighs. Release.
  • Tighten your calves by pointing your toes downward. Release.
  • Point your toes toward your nose. Release.
  • Tighten your whole body. Release.
  • Let your entire body relax.
  • Take a few slow, deep breaths and then breathe naturally and easily.
  • Rest in this relaxed position for a few minutes.
  • Get up slowly and gently.

Cool air in, warm air out

  • Sit or lie in a comfortable position.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Breathe in through your nose. Focus on the air coming in through your nostrils.
  • Breathe out through your nose. Focus on the air going out of your nostrils.
  • Notice that the air you breathe in is cooler than the air you breathe out.
  • Imagine the air coming in as being fresh and pure while the air going out takes your tensions and worries away.


  • Sit or lie in a comfortable position.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Take a few slow, deep breaths and then breathe naturally and easily.
  • Imagine your favorite place, or a place you've always wanted to go.
  • Pay attention to the sights, sounds, smells, colors, textures and weather in this place.
  • Linger in this place for a few minutes and enjoy your sense of peace and comfort.

Try using some relaxation breathing (such as Breathe to Relax) while you are practicing this imagery. You can also listen to relaxing music if it helps make it easier to practice or feel more relaxing.

The relaxation worksheet can help you identify what techniques work best for you. That will help you create a relaxation routine.

Affirmation for surgery

Affirmations are positive statements. They can help change negative situations into ones that are positive. Affirmations can help you feel in control and help you get ready for your surgery.

Examples of affirmations

  • I am relaxed and calm as I prepare for this surgery.
  • My surgery will be successful.
  • I will wake up easily and feel refreshed after surgery.
  • When I wake up after surgery, my pain will be managed.
  • When I wake up after surgery, my nausea will be managed.
  • My body will work quickly to heal after my surgery.
  • My blood loss will be minimal and my body will quickly replace any blood or fluids.
  • I am a strong person and will adapt to the lessons my body may be teaching me through this process.
  • I trust in my body’s ability to welcome in and use what is helpful and healing to me. I also trust my body to reject what is unhealthy and not needed in my healing journey.
  • I trust my health care team to use their skills for my good and to promote healing.

My affirmations

Create three to five of your own affirmations or choose from the examples above, and write them down.

Read them aloud to yourself every day until your surgery. Take a slow, deep breath before you read each one. Bring them with you to your surgery so a member of your health care team can read them to you as you receive anesthesia.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Understanding Your Colon or Rectal Surgery, can-ah-95399
First Published: 01/24/2013
Last Reviewed: 08/15/2017