When we’re feeling lots of pressure in our lives, our body reacts by releasing hormones like epinephrine and norepinephrine to create the sensation most of us know as stress. When we’re stressed, our blood pressure can increase, our blood sugar can rise, and our heart rate may increase. As we all know, we’re often not ourselves when we’re stressed out either. We become irritable and distracted.
Experts have a whole range of views about whether stress definitively increases cancer risk, but most health professionals would advise their patients to avoid stress as much as possible.
Everyone experiences stress at times, and that’s okay. What’s important, though, is to know what type of stress you’re experiencing and how you’ll cope with it in a healthy way. Most experts group stress into two different categories: chronic and acute. Acute stress is short-term and is usually comes from your surroundings. You might feel acute stress right before a big presentation or when you’re running through an airport to catch a flight you’re very late for. This type of stress can feel very powerful when it happens, but once the incident causing the stress has passed, the feeling will go away along with it.
What is Chronic Stress
Chronic stress, on the other hand, is tougher to tackle. Chronic stress is usually derived from a difficult life experience that has no definitive ending. If a family member becomes seriously sick or you take a major pay cut and struggle to pay the bills, you’ll likely experience chronic stress. Chronic stress can go on for long, open-ended periods of time, and it can take a toll on your body and mind.
Chronic stress is the type of stress that physicians spend most of their energy on, because it’s been linked to many health issues. People suffering from chronic stress may also experience digestive problems, fertility struggles, and other health issues. Because chronic stress can weaken the immune system, this may lead to patients facing a higher risk of cancer.
Another expert theory is that stress can contribute to cancer risk by sparking other unhealthy habits. A person facing seemingly endless stress may try to find relief through emotional eating, increased drinking, sedentary habits, or smoking. All of these behaviors could put them at risk for other health issues, including cancer.
This may sound scary, but it’s important to remind yourself that some level stress now and then is normal, and that if your stress does feel out of control, there are healthy ways to process it.
Talk to a Therapist
These pros are trained to know the ins and outs of stress better than almost anyone. They can help you create a game plan to cope with stress effectively and to eliminate some stressors from your lives.
Delegate What You Can
Obviously, the easiest way to diminish stress is to remove stress-causing factors from your life, but nobody can do that completely. What we can do, however, is outsource or switch out certain things that stress us out. If making it to work on time is a big cause of anxiety for you each morning, consider joining a carpool that would help you get out the door earlier. If you’re too frazzled at the end of the week to meal plan for a big grocery trip, join a recipe box subscription program so your dinner ingredients are waiting for you at home after work each night.
Practice Saying “No”
One of the biggest causes of stress is overcoming ourselves to obligations we never wanted to be part of to begin with. It’s okay to say no, and politely declining things you already have a full plate is not rude. It can take practice to get comfortable with this habit, but it can radically transform your relationship to stress.
Unwind with Yoga
Yoga combines the benefits of mindfulness and exercise into a surefire method for stress reduction. Spend some extra time at your local studio or on a yoga mat at home. Your mind and body will thank you!
Stress may increase your cancer risk, but that doesn’t mean you have to live in fear. In fact, some researchers believe that how you react to stress makes all the difference in whether it’s unhealthy for you. For example, if you see stress as a healthy and normal part of life, your body is less likely to experience ill effects because of it. On the other hand, if you see stress as a cause of illness, you’re more likely to become sick as a result of stress. Be kind to yourself, and make self-care a priority. Both your health and your spirit will benefit!