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The Colors of Cancer: Stress

Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Recently, in an effort to escape the mid-day heat and preserve precious energy, I dialed up a Netflix offering for a two-hour respite from El Paso in July. I settled on Bridge of Spies, a 2015 release about an American lawyer assigned to defend a Soviet spy and arrange his exchange for a captured American U2 pilot. As the plot progressed, I found myself embracing the outlook of the accused spy, who never seemed to be bothered by anything, from his arrest to his deportation. “Would it help?” he inquired each time James Donovan asked him if he was worried or stressed about his situation.

There’s no escaping it: stress is a part of our lives, and how we handle that stress can have an impact on our health. Every day we hear more and more about the harm stress may cause our minds and bodies. In fact, researchers have even ventured into studies to link stress with a cancer diagnosis.

The National Cancer Institute reports, “Although studies have shown that stress factors, such as death of a spouse, social isolation, and medical school examinations, alter the way the immune system functions, they have not provided scientific evidence of a direct cause-and-effect relationship between these immune system changes and the development of cancer.” However, some medical experts say therein lies the link between cancer and stress — if stress decreases the body’s ability to fight disease, it loses the ability to kill cancer cells.

Part of the reason stress may be linked to cancer is simply that when people are under pressure, they often make poor choices. They take up smoking, stop exercising, start eating unhealthy foods – all factors that are also linked to cancer.

One cancer researcher examining the cancer/stress link recommended, “My advice for healthy living is this: eat good food, get good exercise, be kind, be calm. It kind of incorporates what your grandma told you, but it may take science awhile to catch up with that.”

Stress may have a negative impact on your health but you’re never going to be completely rid of stress. The key isn’t in doing away with all of life’s pressures, but in how you handle them on a daily basis.

Here are some tips for stress management you can do at any time:

Deep Breathing
When you are under stress, you often inhale from your chest, which tends to be a shallower and more constricted way of breathing. Breathing deeply, inhaling from your abdomen instead of your chest, provides more oxygen to your bloodstream and can help you control your emotions and stay calm. To start, place your hands over your belly and slowly breathe in through your nose. Feel your stomach expand, then slowly exhale.

Meditation is a way to calm your body and mind by focusing your attention on one thing, such as a phrase, an object, or your breathing. The most common way of meditating is to pick a word or phrase that you can say to yourself in coordination with your breathing. If you use a single word, repeat it when exhaling.

Can you almost smell mesquite after the rain or imagine your grandchild’s dimples? If so, you can practice imagery, which is simply creating a mental picture or scene that can help soothe and relax you.

To be mindful is to focus on the present moment, concentrating on the here-and-now. As you go to or from work, notice your surroundings, appreciate the look of the sky or the sound of a bird. While at work or at home, try to focus on the task or project at hand without thinking about what you have to do in the next hour or next day.

Adopt a Russian spy attitude
When someone asks you why you aren’t alarmed or distressed over a situation, try remaining calm, collected and unconcerned as you respond, “Would it help?”

Most of the time, it wouldn’t.
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