Stress

Key Points

  • Adverse or demanding circumstances, called “stressors”, can disrupt your internal balance and call on your body to activate a stress response.
  • A prolonged stress response can produce a constant bodily imbalance that can be physically damaging.
  • Unmanaged stress can increase the likelihood that the cancer will progress, as well as decrease your quality of life.
  • Almost every category of complementary therapies has some useful stress-management approach.
  • Consider seeing a professional such as a therapist, oncology social worker or oncology navigator to help you explore your stressful situation and identify an approach that is right for you.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines stress as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances."1 Thus, stress is not so much a symptom as it is a state. Those adverse or demanding circumstances, called “stressors”, can disrupt your internal balance and call on your body to activate a stress response. This response is automatic and calls on every bodily system to bring the body back into balance. A certain amount of stress is normal—in fact, we couldn’t survive without the stress response. However, too much  of a stress response over time can be damaging.

The Stress Response and Cancer

A prolonged stress response can produce a constant bodily imbalance that can be physically damaging. Organs and tissues begin to function differently in response to the continual outpouring of stress hormones and chemicals.

A prolonged stress response may compromise health and result in symptoms such as anxiety, depression and insomnia. The immune system is also affected—immune cells become preoccupied with triggering alarm reactions instead of doing their normal duties. With the body’s attention focused on dealing with stressors, the job of finding and killing cancer cells is neglected.2

A prolonged stress response may compromise health and result in symptoms such as anxiety, depression and insomnia.

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Though stress may not cause cancer, it appears that unmanaged stress can increase the likelihood that the cancer will progress, as well as decrease your quality of life.

Managing Stress

Many tools for taming the stress response are available, many of which you can learn to do for yourself. Almost every category of complementary therapies has some useful stress-management approach. See Managing Stress, use the links in the Related Pages section below, or search our Therapy Summaries database, selecting "Stress" in the Symptoms box.

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Integrative Plans, Protocols and Medical Systems

For more information about plans and protocols, see our Integrative Plans and Protocols page.

Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, and reviewed by Nancy Hepp, MS; most recent update on October 19, 2018.

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