People know intuitively that stress and anxiety can adversely affect their day to day health. We’ve all experienced it; the stressful work week that culminates in a weekend spent nursing a cold or the flu. This is more than anecdotal. Scientific studies have drawn a link between periods of intense stress and the occurrence of many common illnesses. That’s why doctors and nutritionists recommend that patients boost their intake of vitamins and supplements during periods of intense emotional or physical stress. However, while the idea that stress can affect our general health is widely accepted, it rarely extends to more serious chronic diseases. But recent studies are poised to change that, and are showing a direct link between intense and prolonged periods of stress and the development of many common types of cancer.
Cancer and the Immune System
Every one of us is exposed to cancer causing agents every day of our lives. They are in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. When our bodies are strong and healthy, we are better able to effectively neutralize these cancer causing agents. A healthy immune system can prevent these toxic agents from taking root in the body. It can also identify any potentially cancerous cells and target them for destruction before they can multiply and become tumorous. This is a natural, and ongoing, process. However, extended periods of stress and anxiety can significantly compromise the body’s immune system, weakening it and leaving it incapable of successfully warding off the onset of cancer and other diseases.
The Stress Gene
A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation demonstrates a further link between stress and the advancement of cancer. ATF3, the so-called ‘stress gene’, is activated when the body is under both emotional and physical stress. The purpose of the gene is to target damaged or compromised cells, and cause them to self-destruct. In this way, damaged or mutated cells are prevented from multiplying and leading to cancer and other serious disorders. When cancerous cells appear in the body, the immune system sends T-cells to the site to attack and destroy the cancer. However, the latest research has shown that cancer cells can use the ATF3 gene against these immune cells, causing them to malfunction and allowing the cancer to grow and to move to other parts of the body. But the ATF3 gene is not only activated by the cancer cells. It is also activated by emotional and physical stress, essentially making the body a prime host for a variety of common cancers.
Emotional Health and Cancer Therapy
If we accept that stress and anxiety have a direct impact on the development of cancer, we must also understand that they have an equally direct impact on cancer therapy and recovery. Reducing stress levels allows the body to tap the energy it needs to successfully combat the cancer, prevent it from spreading, and ultimately return itself to optimal health. So it is necessary to learn and adopt some relaxation techniques that can help rid the body of stress and anxiety. Consider the following relaxation techniques:
- Prayer and Meditation – Research has shown that daily prayer alters the brains neural pathways and makes the mind and body more resilient to stress. Simply setting aside a few minutes every day to meditate on the word of God can help boost your body’s ability to ward off a number of diseases.
- Deep Breathing Exercises – Deep breathing helps to combat stress by lowering the blood pressure and slowing the heart rate. When you are under stress, disengage for five minutes or so and perform some deep breathing exercises. Focus only on your breathing, until your body and mind relaxes.
- Exercise – Regular exercise has been proven to combat depression, and it is just as effective in eliminating stress and anxiety. Something as simple as a thirty minute walk every day can help reduce internal anxiety, and boost the immune system. Combining prayer with a daily walk is also a good way to center the mind and body, and release the inner tensions that can lead to disease.
Stress is with us every day, and it has a definite effect on our health and well-being. The most recent research is showing that stress and anxiety may have an even greater impact on our health than we realized, so it is more important than ever to learn how to manage the emotional and physical stresses that we are exposed to.