Stress causes inflammation, which in turn is a hallmark of most diseases, from obesity and diabetes to heart disease and cancer.
How does stress promote the spread of cancer?
Cancer cells typically spread to other areas of the body via your blood vessels or through your lymphatic system. Stress hormones affect both of these pathways.
Adrenaline activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) to increase the rate of lymph formation. Adrenaline also causes physical changes in the lymph vessels, allowing cancer cells to migrate into other body parts at a faster rate.
The stress hormone norepinephrine may also increase the growth rate of cancer. It does this by stimulating tumor cells to break down the tissue around their cells. This allows the tumor cells to more easily move into your bloodstream. Once there, they can travel to other organs and tissues and form additional tumors.
Epinephrine -yet another stress hormone — has also been found to cause changes in certain cancer cells, specifically prostate and breast cancer, in ways that makes them resistant to apoptosis (cell death).
This means that emotional stress can both contribute to the development of cancer and reduce the effectiveness of treatments.
Chronic stress also taxes your adrenals, which can lead to adrenal fatigue. Hormones produced by your adrenal glands control a number of bodily functions, including your “fight or flight” response to stress. Once adrenal fatigue sets in, your resilience to stress may falter or give out completely, making you hypersensitive to even minor stressors that normally wouldn’t throw you off.
There are many ways to measure adrenal function. The most common include a 24-hour urine test, timed salivary collections, or a blood draw.
Stress is an inescapable part of life for most people, so what can you do?
It’s important to understand that it is how you deal with stress that will determine whether it will translate into health problems later on.
The stress reaction should dissipate as quickly as possible after the perceived danger has passed. The scientific term for this is resilience— “the ability of your body to rapidly return to normal, both physically and emotionally, after a stressful event.”
Researchers have identified four factors that determine the intensity of our response to stress; clinicians sometimes use the acronym N.U.T.S. when referring to them:
- Threat perception
- Sense of no control
One psychological tool that can help you change your response to a stressful event is known as “reframing.”
Cognitive reframing is a psychological technique that consists of identifying and then disputing irrational or maladaptive thoughts. Reframing is a way of viewing and experiencing events, ideas, concepts and emotions to find more positive alternatives.
So how do you go about reframing your response to a stressful event or experience?
Question your thoughts. Just because you think it doesn’t mean it’s real or accurate. Oftentimes our thoughts reveal more about our ingrained belief systems than actual reality, so you can choose to not believe every thought that crosses your mind.
Turn perceived threat into a challenge. Oftentimes, there are hidden opportunities in stressful events. So ask yourself, how can this experience help you grow and improve?
Expand your time horizon. Ask yourself whether this event will actually matter a month, a year, or a decade from now. Do you think you’ll even remember it?
Increase your perceived sense of control. While actually being in control of everything is impossible, it is your perceived sense of control that matters. You can increase your sense of being in control by a) focusing on what you do have influence over, b) coming up with creative solutions, and c) making a list of resources or people you know you can turn to for help, should you need it.
There are also many other stress reduction techniques with a proven track record. The key is to find out what works best for you and then stick to it. a daily stress-reduction program.
Here are a some suggestions for your daily stress-reduction program:
Try progressive relaxation. All the way from fingers to toes—tense and then release each muscle group in the body (lower arm, upper arm, chest, back and abdominals, etc.). Once the body is relaxed, the mind will follow.
Try some light yoga. The combination of deep breathing techniques and yoga poses works to reduce stress.
Meditate. The “mental silence” that goes along with meditation will have positive effects on stress levels.
Breathe deep. Taking a deep breath has been shown to lower cortisol levels, which can help reduce stress and anxiety. Studies suggest deep breathing can also cause a temporary drop in blood pressure
Use essential oils. Studies suggest aromatherapy can be a good way to relieve stress. Certain aromas (like lavender) have been consistently shown to reduce stress levels.
Listen to music. Research points to multiple ways in which music relieves stress, including triggering biochemical stress reducers.
Laugh it off. Laughter can reduce the physical effects of stress (like fatigue) on the body.
Drink tea. One study found that drinking tea leads to lower post-stress cortisol levels and greater feelings of relaxation.
Exercise. That post-exercise endorphin rush is one way to sharply cut stress.
Try guided visualization. Visualizing a calm and peaceful scene will help reduce stress and ease anxiety.
Get a massage. Studies show massage is highly beneficial for fighting stress. Make it a regular part of your health plan.
Take a nap. Napping has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, which aids in stress relief.
Give someone a hug. Hugging actually reduces blood pressure and stress levels in adults.
Do an art project. Adult coloring books are a great place to start. The simple act of coloring can reduce stress-related behavior and symptoms.
Keep a gratitude journal. A gratitude journal can really help you put thing in perspective, so pick a time every day to write down a few things that make you happy.
Take a walk. A quiet meditative stroll can do wonders for stress relief, especially if you go outdoors. Try not to rush, and take whatever pace feels most natural.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Pick one of these suggestions and implement it today.
When that behavior becomes a habit, add the next stress reduction technique to your day.
What you do today will determine your tomorrow. Make it the best it can be.