Is there a connection between chronic stress and cancer? (w/videos)
June 5, 2018
| by Molly Peck
Guided imagery meditation exercises help reduce anxiety, stress, fatigue, restlessness, difficulty sleeping and physical discomfort.
Everyone experiences stress, but chronic stress is different. Chronic stress comes from emotional pressure experienced over a long period of time. This can cause an increase in the release of stress hormones, which can lead to mental and physical problems.
When diagnosed with cancer, many people feel an increase in stress, and it can easily become chronic. Research now suggests that chronic stress can actually make cancer spread faster.
Stress can speed up the spread of cancer throughout the body, especially in ovarian, breast and colorectal cancer. When the body becomes stressed, neurotransmitters like norepinephrine are released, which stimulate cancer cells. That stimulation can help cancer cells evade death, expand and adjust to new environments in the body, allowing them to grow in new places.
Chronic stress also weakens the immune system, which is further weakened by cancer treatment. A weakened immune system increases susceptibility to disease and infection.
Chronic stress can also lead to depression and anxiety. A poor outlook on life can take a toll on the body and mind. People with anxiety and depression sometimes manage stress poorly by engaging in unhealthy behavior. Some manage stress by drinking or smoking, while others overeat.
Depression can cause fatigue, which often results in lack of exercise. All of these behaviors can result in health issues that can lead to cancer. Stress can be managed in healthy ways, but puts you at higher risk of developing unhealthy behavior.
Talking to others and having people to lean on is often the best form of stress relief. A cancer patient’s support system can come from many places. Some people like to talk to friends and family, while others prefer going to support groups or a therapist. There are many support groups designed for people with specific types of cancer. Spending time with others who have the same type of cancer and are experiencing the same stresses as you are can be very relieving.
Therapy can be helpful as well. Speaking with someone in a neutral position instead of friends and family, who might be scared or unequipped to deal with your emotions, is an excellent way to relieve stress. Getting whatever you are thinking and feeling off your chest can ease your mind. Talking to friends and family you are comfortable with can achieve the same result, it just depends on what you prefer.
There are physical exercises that can help with chronic stress and depression as well. Keeping active is at the top of the list of small changes that can increase your happiness. If possible, try to get regular exercise, which releases endorphins into the brain. There are several cases where exercise may not be possible for cancer patients, and there are other things you can do that will have a similar effect.
Mediation and breathing techniques
Breathing techniques and meditation are good ways to reduce stress without being active. Slow, deep breaths are always helpful in a stressful situation and there are many easy breathing exercises. Deep breaths trigger different neurons in the brain that signal the body to relax. Meditation is valued by many cancer patients. It can relieve stress and promote positive thinking. There are several different types of meditation, and it can be practiced by yourself or in groups.
Yoga is a great form of exercise that can be modified to be gentle or strenuous. Yoga focuses on stretching and strengthening the muscles through slow movements. It is a good alternative when vigorous forms of exercise like cardio or lifting weights becomes too much. City of Hope offers a Gentle Restorative Yoga class twice weekly, on Mondays and Thursdays, at the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center. The class includes guided meditation and relaxation techniques as well.
Mental health is just as important as physical health and can often affect you in ways you would not expect. Try to heal your mind and body equally, and they will get stronger together.
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