In a medical or biological context stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure).[ 1 ]
There are those adverse or demanding circumstances, called “stressors” that can disrupt your internal balance and call on your body to activate a stress response. This response is automatic and calls on every bodily system to bring the body back into balance. A certain amount is normal, hence we can’t survive without a stress response. But too much of it and it can be very damanging.[ 2 ]
The Response and Cancer
A prolonged stress response can produce a constant bodily imbalance that can be physically damaging. Your internal organs start to function differently in response to continuous outpouring of your cortisol hormone which one of your 3 main stress hormones.
A prolonged stress response will compromise your health and result in other cancer related symptoms. The immune system will also be affected, hence when your body is focused on dealing with such stressors the job of finding and killing cancer cells will be neglected. [ 3 ]
Sometimes you might hear people ask “did stress cause my cancer?” There is no simple answer to that question. No good evidence shows that stress causes cancer. But there are chemicals released in the stress response that can speed up tumor growth.
Chronically high levels of stress can aggravate your mental health with your cancer experience, thus increasing anxiety and depression. Then as emotional distress signal your body raises your cortisol level which further increases distress.
Essentially, your stress may not cause you cancer, but it can increase the likelihood that the cancer will progress, as well as decrease your quality of life. If you think this is happening to you, you might need to consider managing stress a high priority as a part of your integrative cancer care plan.
Key Points[ 4 ]
- Adverse or demanding circumstances, called “stressors” can disrupt your internal balance and call on your body to activate a stress response.
- A prolonged stress response can produce a constant bodily imbalance that can be physically damaging.
- Unmanaged stress can increase the likelihood that the cancer will progress, as well as decrease your quality of life.
- Almost every category of complementary therapies has some useful stress-management approach.
- Consider seeing a professional such as a therapist or cancer navigator to help you explore your stressful situation and identify an approach that is right for you.
In addition to complementary therapies for managing stress, seeing a professional such as a therapist or counselor will help you navigate your stressful situation and help you identify an approach which works for you.
Finally, be gentle with yourself and recognize that the very nature of stress is that it often comes from circumstances that are out of your control. Look back long enough to learn from stress so that you can face forward and see a different way of responding to the inevitable stressors of life.
- Credit: BCCT: Stress
- Collaborative on Health and the Environment: Psychosocial Environment
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