You can reduce stress significantly by understanding how it affects you and by learning the best ways to respond or prevent it.
Stress is something we all deal with regularly, which cancer patients and their caregivers know all too well. So, why is it some people are better at handling stress than others?
Effectively managing stress is a matter of knowing your triggers, your automatic responses and how to prepare yourself to handle it.
You’re Just 10 Steps Away From Reducing Stress
Dr. Barbara L. Andersen, a clinical psychologist, professor and researcher at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, studies the affects of stress and immunity and its relationship to cancer. Here are the actions she suggests you take to find stress relief:
- Understand stress and your responses to it. It’s important to recognize your stressors and the physical changes stress may produce in you. Responses are unique to each person, but common responses include headaches, heart pounding and abnormal breathing. Emotional responses may also manifest, such as fatigue, difficulty making decisions and/or anxiety.
- Focus on relaxation. When our bodies are relaxed, we’re better able to control cancer therapy symptoms like nausea and fatigue. Meditation, yoga, massage and/or deep breathing are all proven ways to relax the mind and body. Progressive muscle relaxation can also lower tension and reduce wear and tear on the body. Practice at least three times per week in 20-minute sessions.
- Resolve to problem solve. Consider carefully the things that trigger your stress. This may require keeping a journal for a few weeks to note when you feel stress, what events led up to it and how you reacted. This will help you define and target the problems causing stress. Once the problems are identified, you can begin implementing solutions to solve them.
- Identify a social-support network. It’s sometimes difficult to open up when you’re going through a life-changing event. You may feel like you’re being a burden or causing others heartache. But sharing your reactions and emotions with loved ones is critical for managing stress. Trying to go it alone will only increase your anxiety. Accept the spontaneous offers of help from friends and family. Seek help through support groups and online cancer forums. Do everything you can to build a social-support network that can get you through difficult times.
- Communicate how stress is affecting you. Express your thoughts, feelings and need for help when talking to your support groups, friends, family—and most importantly—your healthcare providers. Your doctor can provide sound advice specific to your unique physical, mental and emotional needs.
- Focus on nutrition. During cancer treatments, your diet and relationship with food is going through a dramatic transformation. But right now, your body needs nutrition more than ever to recover and combat stress.
- Get plenty of sleep. During the day, our brains are tested with each decision we have to make. Sleep is when the brain and body has a chance to fully recover. Aim for seven to nine hours of shuteye to get an adequate amount of restorative deep sleep. This may not completely eliminate cancer-related fatigue, but it will make stress management easier.
- Start or resume an exercise regime. One of the most effective ways to reduce stress is to get moving. Gentle exercise, such as walking or swimming, can help ease tense muscles and boost your mood with a dose of endorphins. Start with a small goal, such as 10 minutes a day, and slowly increase the duration as your endurance improves. Exercising with an accountability partner can help keep your motivation high, so regular exercise becomes a healthy habit. Before starting an exercise regimen, you’ll need to consult with your doctor to decide which exercises are best for you.
- Learn to manage physical and mental health symptoms. Call your doctor, or go to your appointments with questions if you’re experiencing any symptoms. Instead of worrying and wondering, your doctor can help you get the help you need to cope with stress.
- Make time to care for yourself. Treating yourself to something you enjoy isn’t an indulgence. Easy-to-do, simple pleasures are often the best remedy for stress. Studies have found quiet time spent reading can significantly reduce stress in just six minutes, and it doesn’t matter what you read. “Me time,” however you want to spend it, gives you a chance to completely unwind.