Stress increases the level of stress hormones. This can be beneficial in the short term, but if continued, it is harmful in the long term. Chronic stress with increased hormone levels over a long time weakens the immune system that is important to us in fighting cancer and other diseases. Can you reduce stress to give your immune system better working conditions and yourself a better daily life?
Many people who are diagnosed with cancer are struck with a feeling of helplessness. You lose control over your health, and it is easy to be overwhelmed by fears of a future that has suddenly become more uncertain and sinister. Your attitude is further disturbed by previous experiences and stories of the effects of cancer.
High levels of stress hormones weaken the immune system. You may have noticed that you are more at risk of catching infections in times of stress. Studies have shown that high levels of stress hormones make the immune system less effective against cancer cells in the breast, ovary, or prostate gland.
What can you do to reduce the stress level in your life? Think about how to prioritize your time. Get a grip on your schedule if you can, and seek help from friends and family. Try to cut out unnecessarily energy- and time-consuming obligations. Even though it might feel selfish at the moment, the reserves of time and energy you can achieve may make you able to give more back later. Make use of relaxation techniques!
Relaxation techniques explained
Relaxation exercises can help you ‘unwind’ both physically and mentally, easing physical and psychological tension. A short session of yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises can do much to reduce stress and induce calm. The effect is measurable; just count your resting pulse rate or measure your blood pressure for objective evidence of the benefit.
Yoga can effectively reduce stress by combining physical and mental techniques that include controlled breathing, meditation, and physical exercise. Yoga is often useful in helping to control anxiety and relieve psychological distress.
Bodily self-awareness and active breathing enhance relaxation, concentration and energy levels, with additional physical benefits in suppleness strength and balance. (1)
‘MediYoga’ is a variety of yoga specially developed for therapeutic use. It is physically and psychologically less demanding but makes good use of breathing techniques and meditation. Some hospitals offer MediYoga as part of the treatment for chronic pain and rehabilitation after cancer treatment, as an example. Regular MediYoga sessions have shown to improve sleep, reduce anxiety, and increase confidence and a sense of well-being. (2)
Mindfulness is the use of simple, practical techniques to train oneself to be fully aware in the here and now. By concentrating on what is happening in your body and mind, you can dispel harmful stress, concentrate your energy, and learn to be aware of your thoughts and feelings rather than being controlled by them.
Mindfulness exercises invite you to observe gently what is in your mind from moment to moment in order to give you an ordered perspective on your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, recognizing them as part of human nature. You practice accommodating unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and sensations without automatically reacting to them.
Mindfulness exercises have widely been used to treat anxiety, stress, and depression because these conditions entail subconscious and sometimes automatic mechanisms to control or avoid unpleasant emotions. Mindfulness training attempts to provide yourself with more conscious and flexible responses to yourself and others. (3)
Practicing mindfulness and self-awareness can help us in facing pain and suffering.
1 Agnetta Anderze ’N-Carlsson, Ulla Persson Lundholm, Monica Köhn, Elisabeth Westerdahl: ‘Medical yoga: Another way of being in the world,’ in International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-Being, 9, 2014; Ulla Persson Lundholm, Monica Köhn, Ing-Liss Bryngelsson, Elisabeth Westerdahl, Agnetta Anderze ’N-Carlsson: ‘Medical Yoga for Patients with Stress-Related Symptoms and Diagnoses in Primary Health Care: A Randomised Controlled Trial,’ in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013.
2 Store norske leksikon (‘Big Norwegian Dictionary’).
3 Per-Einar Binder et al.: ‘Mindfulness i psykologisk behandling (“Mindf ulness in Psychological Treatment”), Universitetsforlaget (“University Press), 2014.