Straight Talk about Mesothelioma, a blog series created by Michael T. Milano, M.D., Ph.D., a radiation oncology specialist, as a resource for mesothelioma patients and their loved ones.
People who are better able to cope with stress have a better quality of life while they are being treated for cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. The report goes on to state that patients who are able to find coping strategies that help them deal effectively with their stress tend to have lower levels of anxiety, depression, and symptoms related to their cancer and treatment.
Stress is Not in Your Head
Remember that stress is a physical reaction to some type of real and/or perceived threat, whether physical, mental, or emotional. The body releases the stress hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, which make a person’s heart rate speed up, and causes blood sugars and blood pressure to spike. This may be beneficial when a person needs energy to escape some one-time, dangerous situation, but if stress is ongoing it can contribute to all types of medical conditions. When you’re already battling mesothelioma, you don’t want to add stress-related diseases to your list of challenges. Chronic stress can lead to hormonal imbalances such as elevated cortisol which can affect your physical and mental well-being.
Learn the Skills to Beat Your Stress
Stress has become such an issue for patients that some medical care teams routinely screen for it throughout the course of treatment. Even those patients who are only moderately stressed are often referred to a social worker, clergy, psychologist or psychiatrist.
While I have touched on relaxation and stress management techniques in other blogs in this series, here is a list of activities specifically deemed beneficial for lowering a person’s stress levels.
- This may not be the magic pill you’d been hoping for, but regular, moderate exercise at least 5 times each week for 30 minutes yields enormous health benefits above and beyond reductions in stress.
- Attend a few cancer education sessions. While it can seem counterintuitive to learn more about your cancer in order to reduce the stress it is causing, it can be helpful to understand fully just what is happening inside your body. Once you understand your enemy, you can combat it.
- Try meditation and imagery techniques. Meditation is not something we intuitively know how to do. To get the full benefits, seek out a professional to coach you through the process.
- Seek social support. I will focus on the benefits of joining a support group in my next blog, but you can get comfort and support simply by making a point to reach out to friends and family members and keep them involved in your life. It is all too easy to isolate yourself and then loneliness and stress can build. Whether you meet regularly with a formal support group, have a standing appointment with a psychologist, or simply get together often with friends, what’s most important is that you find people with whom you are comfortable sharing any thoughts and concerns you may be having.
If after trying these techniques your stress levels are still high talk to your doctor. It may be time to try some of the medications available that are effective at treating stress.
Next article in this series: “Find a Support Group”