Breast Cancer AwarenessWeek 3: Stress and Cancer How to Keep Your Stress Low
Managing stress and anxiety after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis can feel like an uphill battle. Each day will bring different feelings and emotions, but there are some great techniques that you can use to support you and reduce your stress while coping with the anxiety that pops up.
Stress and anxiety are common in everyday living; however, adding a diagnosis to an already stressed life can push you to the limit. Feelings of worry, overwhelm, tension and nervousness about what is happening and will happen will come and go. Sometimes you will feel determined and strong, while other days you may feel more panicky and scared. These are all natural feelings and should be felt. Don’t stuff them down and think you are a lesser person for feeling them. You are human and humans need to feel. So feel away!!
Take time to be angry and yell and scream. Take time to be scared and worried. Take time to be a warrior and strong. The key is to be able to feel the feelings and then move along. Don’t waste your energy staying in angry and worry all the time. Instead, use your energy to shift your feelings of dread and overwhelm to happiness, joy and accomplishment.
Here are the physical signs of stress and anxiety you may exude during this timeframe:
· A racing heart rate
· Sleep disruption
· Change in appetite- either too much (emotional eating) or too little (no appetite at all)
· Muscle tension
· Difficulty concentrating
· Tightness in the chest
· Feelings of irritability and frustration
In some cases, if anxiety isn’t recognized it can become so overwhelming that it can lead to panic attacks, which can cause more fear, worry and stress. Mood changes and depression may also pop up with those dealing with high stress and anxiety.
So how can you reduce your stress, anxiety and depressive thoughts?
There are some key techniques that you can use while you are going through your treatment to help your body heal. First, I would like to go over how stress can be detrimental to healing your body. Not all stress harmful. Short-term or acute stress is the type of stress you experience when you are about to give a speech or trying to get through a busy crowd. It will subside as soon as that event passes. This type of stress comes from situations you know you can manage and know that it will be over at a set time.
Long-term or chronic stress is more damaging to your health. This type of stress is one that you have been carrying around for quite a bit of time. Excessive worry about your family, future, unemployment, relationships or if you have been caring for a sick loved one for a long time. This type of stress feels like a “no-end-in-sight” stress and it can weaken your immune system. When your immune system is weakened you are prone to diseases like cancer. This chronic stress can also increase your risk for digestive problems and depression. Dr. Anil Sood, M.D, professor of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine at MD Anderson states, “Chronic stress also can help cancer grow and spread in a number of ways.”
Stress hormones can prevent a process called anoikis. This process kills diseased cells in the body and prevents them from spreading. Chronic stress increases the production of growth factors in the body that increases your blood supply and speed up the development of cancerous tumors.
Stress produces those “fight or flight” chemicals, epinephrine and norepinephrine that signal your body there is an emergency or threat. These chemicals raise your heart rate and blood pressure. Cortisol is also released to prepare you to run away. It can cause fats and sugars to be released into your blood stream to help give you a boost of energy to outrun that bear who is chasing you. The problem, that constant push of cortisol also reduces your immune system. So, if you are in chronic stress and constantly pushing cortisol through your system, you are lowering your immune response more and more every day. Over time, these dangerous chemicals will produce damaging effects on your body including heart palpitations, nausea, depression, indigestion, aches and pains. If your body is injured, have a cancer diagnosis or recovering from a surgery, it can be even worse. Chronic stress is working against you and making your immune system work less effectively, which makes it harder for your body to heal.
When the body has an excess of cortisol it will interfere with the production of anti-inflammatory substances called cytokines. Low levels of cytokines mean low levels of healing and your body stays in an inflamed state, which makes it very hard to heal.
So how can you manage your stress? The key is to learn how to manage it, so you keep your chronic stress levels low so you can prevent any other health issues to pop up. Here are some great stress-reducing strategies for you to use in the next several months and beyond:
Seek out a Professional
Finding a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist or coach is a great way to ease and manage your stress. Talk therapy and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) have been shown to help cancer patients tremendously in accepting their diagnosis and developing the tools they need to move through the stages of the diagnosis. These strategies can help your brain uncover the connections between your thoughts, emotions and thus the behaviors linked to them. In fact, CBT can offer mental tools to cope with the types of worry and anxiety that shift your immune system.
By creating a mindfulness practice you are giving your mind a break from the constant racing thoughts and stress it endures every day. Meditation, yoga, Pilates, T’ai chi and breathwork have been proven to combat stress and anxious thoughts. They can also increase your mood and overall quality of life. It doesn’t take much either. Start with ten minutes every day to sit and focus on your breath. Inhale for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of two and exhale for a count of four. Increase this to an inhale of a count of six, hold it for a count of four and exhale for a count of six. There are some simple beginner yoga, Pilates and T’ai Chi classes you can take online. Aim for 30 minutes of gentle workout every day to help keep your body moving. Meditation along with yoga, Pilates and T’ai Chi can help your brain soften the links between thoughts, emotions and biological changes in your body. It can relax your neurotransmitters, allowing your brain and body to calm down toward reactions of stress in your life. Mantras or prayer can also be helpful. Find a verse that resonates with you and repeat it daily to bring a sense of calm to your mind and body.
Make Sleep a Priority in Your Life
Aiming for seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night will boost your body’s defense against stress as well as boost your immune levels. Quality sleep means no tossing and turning or waking up through the night with racing thoughts. Quality sleep will affect your mood, memory, ability to focus and help heal the body. Using meditation, yoga and breathwork will help your mind stop racing so you can get a deeper rest. Turn off all electronics one hour before going to sleep. Read an actual book, not a tablet. Take a hot bath or shower with essential oils to help promote sleepiness. You can even use herbal supplements to help you fall asleep; Valerian root and skullcap mixtures help you go to sleep and stay asleep. Hemp CBD can help your endocannabinoid receptors come back into homeostasis in a natural way so your entire body can feel calm and relaxed while also reducing inflammation throughout the body.
Move Your Body
Regular exercise can help you clear your mind, reduce stress levels as well as boost your energy levels. You may feel tired and slow from your treatment, but a little bit of movement can help your mind and body. Many doctors will recommend low-impact and non-strenuous exercise. Try some light yoga stretches, Pilates, walking, T’ai Chi, Qigong, slow dancing, couch/chair movements. A 2006 research study found women who participated in moderate weightlifting or strength training activities is a great way to reduce stress and your chance of recurrence. This moderate workout also can help with lymphedema and reduce the risk of lymphedema.
Bring More Laughter to your Life
Laughter is a great way to reduce stress and boost your mood. It causes your body to release endorphins to improve mood. One research study found that laughter can reduce the stress in cancer sufferers before their chemotherapy treatments. It can play an important role in reducing stress as it releases endorphins to allow the mental and physical body relax. Chronic stress will impact the Limbic system and can lead to constant adrenaline secretion that disrupts the immune system. Laughter balances your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. Laughter also increases endorphins in the brain and that can help lessen pain.
Grab your headphones and put on your favorite album, classical music, relaxing music or healing music frequencies. Studies have shown how powerful music can be to the entire body. It can reduce anxiety, increase feelings of happiness and overall well-being as well as reduce pain and nausea. You can create your own play lists including songs to bring you hope, strength and remind you to kick cancers butt, to songs that help you relax, unwind and settle your racing mind. Music is a great way to soothe your soul on so many levels. Find what works for you and use it often.
Develop a Distraction
What hobby do you like to do? What hobby would you like to start? Take this time to focus on learning a new hobby and shift your negative thoughts. Learning to play an instrument can help you get lost in the learning and forget about your cancer. Learning new recipes and healthy meals can be a great way to shift your focus from negative cancer thoughts to positive healing thoughts. Painting, clay work or drawing is a great way to shift your mindset. Coloring in adult or challenging coloring books. You can take them to your treatments and be able to shift your mind from “I’m getting chemo” to “I am doing something fun and relaxing for myself.”
While there are no food or supplements that act as a “magic pill” to prevent breast cancer or make it go away quicker, there are specific foods you can add and eliminate from your regime to help your body prevent cancer as well as boost the ability for your body to kill the cancer. According to Johns Hopkins by using the following guidelines you can decrease the chance of breast cancer recurrence as well as aid in the healing of your diagnosis:
· Eliminate processed sugar, cancer cells feed on sugar. Read your labels and eliminate it from your diet.
· Decrease fat intake to less than 30 percent of calories.
· Decrease and/or eliminate alcohol intake.
· Minimize intake of pickled and smoked foods.
· Increase your intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Organic is always better as it reduces the opportunity for harmful pesticides and chemicals that come in contact with your body. Your body is already fighting off a foreign body, it doesn’t need to do this in the food you are eating too.
All of these techniques have been shown to have a positive effect on the mind, body and soul. All of them will lower your cortisol levels, blood pressure and heart rate as well as boost your mood and love of life. Create your “tool-box” that you can reach into when stress pops up during your treatment plan. By keeping your stress levels low, you will boost your bodies natural healing ability.
Stay tuned as I dive deeper into changing your diet and how powerful that can be to prevent cancer as well as help you move through your healing process better in week 4 of this series.
Natural cures for breast cancer treatment: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4881189/