Stress is a part of life. However, chronic stress can have a negative impact on your health.

“Stress has a profound impact on how your body’s systems function,” says Dr Lorenzo Cohen, Distinguished Professor in Clinical Cancer Prevention and Director of the Integrative Medicine Program at The University of Texas, Cancer Center. “Health experts are researching whether stress causes cancer. Yet there’s little doubt that it promotes the growth and spread of some forms of the disease. Put simply, “stress makes your body more hospitable to cancer,” Cohen says.

Not all stress is equally harmful

Short-term or acute stress, like the type you might feel before presenting to a board or taking a COVID-19 test, tends to subside as soon as the event passes. But long-term or chronic stress is more damaging. That type of stress springs from situations that last many weeks or months with no definite end point. Caring for an ailing loved one or dealing with a long stint of unemployment or heightened trauma are common causes of chronic stress.

This type of no-end-in-sight stress can weaken your immune system, leaving you prone to diseases like cancer. “Chronic stress also can help cancer grow and spread in a number of ways,” Cohen shares.

“Stress hormones can inhibit a process called anoikis, which kills diseased cells and prevents them from spreading. Chronic stress also increases the production of certain growth factors that increase your blood supply. This can speed the development of cancerous tumors”, Cohen further adds.

Find healthy ways to manage stress

What can I do about stress? Removing the cause is the clear answer. But that is not always possible when it comes to the types of things that cause chronic stress.

Even if you cannot rid yourself of the source of your stress, you can learn to manage it. This can help you keep a lid on chronic stress, preventing minor sources of stress from lingering to a point where they are affecting your health. Below, Health Plus shares just a few KEY stress-reducing strategies.

Not isolating and opting to seek help

It’s okay to have off days, however when there are excessive, unhealthy habits associated with those ‘off days’, support from a healthcare professional is recommended. Strategies may include talk therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). These can help your brain uncover the connections between your thoughts, emotions and behaviours. CBT can provide you with mental tools to manage the types of worry and anxiety that screw up your immune system and increase your disease risks.

Practice meditation or yoga

Mindfulness meditation and yoga have been proven to combat stress. These movement-based activities give your mind a break from stress. Aim for at least two 10-minute periods a day of meditation or similar relaxation techniques. That time should not include stimulating activities like watching television. Sit calmly and try to keep your mind off any concerns. Think about visiting your favourite vacation spot or a quiet, safe place like your garden.

Meditation and yoga also can help your brain soften the links between your thoughts, your emotions and unhealthy biological changes. Put simply, these practices dampen your brain and body’s reactions to stressful events.

Take stress seriously

It is important to understand the negative consequences of stress, especially when it comes to your cancer risks. “Chronic stress is not something anyone in our society should take lightly,” Cohen admonishes.

If you feel crankier than usual and you do not have the energy you once had or you are sleeping poorly, all of those could be signs of stress. We encourage you to take steps to address your stress before it affects your health in more serious ways.