Can stress cause cancer?

August 18, 2017 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Most of us go through some sort of short-term stress at one point in our lives. Acute or short-term stress generally subsides as soon as the event passes. During this type of stress, our body reacts with a fight-or-flight response and releases endorphins designed to help us flee or take action.

Sometimes, short-term stress can have protective and beneficial effects. When we’re stressed, our muscles tense up. This is our body’s way of guarding against injury and pain.

On the other hand, long-term or chronic stress happens when the biological stress response is activated for months or years. This type of stress is more damaging to our health.

With chronic stress, your body has to work even harder when it’s at rest to keep you functioning normally. You may notice your body showing other signs like an increase in resting heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate.

There are more than 50 common symptoms of stress, like:

  • Frequent headaches, jaw clenching or pain
  • Gritting or grinding teeth
  • Stuttering or stammering
  • Tremors, trembling of lips and hands
  • Light headedness, faintness or dizziness
  • Hearing ringing, buzzing or popping sounds
  • Frequent blushing or sweating
  • Having cold sweaty hands and feet or problems swallowing

People who suffer from a significant amount of stress for a prolonged period may develop serious health problems. Chronic stress has been associated with increased susceptibility to some types of infection and worsening of conditions like depression and heart disease.

Researchers have conducted many studies to determine if there is a link between stress and cancer. Though stress promotes the growth and spread of some forms of the disease, the evidence that psychological stress can cause cancer is weak — though there is a flip side.

Some experts say stress makes your body more hospitable to cancer. Chronic stress has been shown to inhibit protective immune responses and enhance harmful immune responses, which in turn may accelerate cancer progression.

Also, people under a lot of stress may find themselves developing certain behaviors, such as smoking, overeating or drinking alcohol, which can indirectly increase their risk of developing cancer.

Learning how to cope with stress is good for your overall health. You can incorporate healthy ways to manage stress by regularly:

  • Taking a time-out and practicing yoga, listening to music, meditating or getting a massage
  • Eating well-balanced meals and limiting alcohol and caffeine
  • Getting enough quality sleep per night
  • Exercising daily
  • Learning what triggers your anxiety
  • Maintaining a positive attitude
  • Getting support from friends and family
  • Keeping a gratitude journal
  • Talking with a counselor or therapist
  • Joining a class or support group

Talking to a doctor can help you rule out any underlying psychological or physical disorders that mimic symptoms of stress.

Join us at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 12 at Elmhurst Hospital for a Mindfulness Meditation class for people directly impacted by cancer. Discover ways to live life more effectively in the present moment, even through difficult times. No previous meditation experience required. Registration is required. Please call 630-527-6363 to register or register online.

How do you manage stress? Tell us in the below comments.

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