Many, many women worry that a stressful job (or other stressful situations such as the death of a partner or divorce) can increase their risk of breast cancer or a recurrence. For sure, stress feels terrible. Ongoing stress wears us down and can steal all your energy, joy, fun, and comfort. A stress-filled life always feels difficult if not, at times, impossible. But, so far, there is no scientific evidence showing that these forms of stress cause breast cancer. We do know that stress can trigger anxiety, sadness, depression, helplessness, anger, and fatigue; compromise your immune system; as well as aggravate any medical condition.
And of course, we all know that being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer is a stressful and scary experience. You may feel that your body is out of your control and be completely tapped out, both physically and emotionally. And we also know that feeling overwhelmed and stressed out 24 hours a day can lead to depression, which can make you less likely to go to treatment or stay on track with your medicine.
So, even without a proven link to breast cancer risk, it’s still very important to manage the stress in your life.
There’s no one treatment that eases stress for everyone. I find great joy in Zumba, which gives me a great workout and relaxes both my mind and body. Other people find relief through massage or journaling.
Here are some techniques to try if you are feeling stressed:
Exercise regularly. Exercise increases the release of endorphins, chemicals that make you feel good. Find a mix of activities that appeals to you—for example, walking with a friend, doing the stairs at work, and taking a yoga class. Shoot for 3-4 hours a week, and work your way up to 5-7 hours if possible.
Get enough sleep. Being well rested helps reduce your stress levels and improves your ability to heal the wear and tear of everyday living and solve the challenges in your life. If you’re having a hard time getting a good night’s rest, check out my column Sleep Well: Turn In, Tune Out, and Unplug.
Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Both can increase stress levels and interfere with sleep. (Of course, there are other reasons besides stress to avoid nicotine.)
Consider joining a support group. Being surrounded by people who are in the same situation as you are can give you new ideas on how to handle difficult issues and ease your stress. The Breastcancer.org Discussion Boards offer a way to connect with thousands of passionate, caring people who can listen and offer help.
Don’t be afraid to try something new. Many complementary and holistic medicine techniques have been shown to ease anxiety and stress, including:
- guided imagery
- music therapy
- progressive muscle relaxation
- tai chi
Learn about these therapies in the Types of Complementary Techniques section of Breastcancer.org.
Work on ways to feel more positive about your life. Accept yourself for who you are and spend your time with positive people who care about you. Expose yourself to productive, life-enhancing experiences. Take that cooking class you read about. Volunteer at your local animal shelter. Answer your local school’s call for tutors. On the other hand, if you’re feeling over-extended and pulled in too many directions, remember to take time for yourself. Learn to say “no” if there’s too much on your plate, and take time to let your batteries recharge.
Anyone who feels that their stress has lead to depression or anxiety that is seriously affecting your quality of life should talk to a psychologist or doctor. Talk therapy can help you learn to manage your stress and feelings without letting them overwhelm you, and there are medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications that make a huge difference.
What are some stress-relievers that work for you?