A diagnosis of cancer is a significant source of chronic stress for patients and their families, but it doesn’t have to be, according to Nancy W. Fawzy, PhD, RN, Board President of Triage Cancer, Culver City, CA. According to Dr. Fawzy, minimizing stress is not only important for promoting good psychosocial health and quality of life throughout survivorship, but also for better disease outcomes.
Stress Is Harmful to the Body
“When we experience an instant stressor, our bodies respond by secreting chemicals we need to either ‘fight or flight,’ and then those chemicals stop secreting as soon as the need for them is gone,” she said. “Studies show that chronic secretion of these chemicals literally makes us sick, because it affects our immune system, and for patients with cancer, it affects cancer promotion, tumor growth, and metastases.”
However, telling patients with cancer to relax and shrug off their diagnosis isn’t the answer. Dr. Fawzy points to studies of men with melanoma in which the worse rates of recurrence and survival were observed in patients who “brushed off” their diagnosis, because they didn’t take precautions or make significant lifestyle changes (for example, they continued to go outside without proper sun protection).
“Surprisingly, the people who are most angry about their diagnosis are the ones who do the best in treatment and in survivorship,” Dr. Fawzy says. The key to managing stress is learning how to practice effective coping strategies. “Avoidance isn’t effective when it results in no change.”
Identify Your Stressors
Before stress can be managed, you must be aware of what your minor and major stressors are. Write down your daily activities, assigning each a value from 1 to 3, with 1 being “a little stressful” and 3 being “most stressful.” Next, describe how you usually respond to these stressors mentally, physically, and behaviorally.
For example, you rate your cancer diagnosis as a level 3 stressor, and you’ve noticed that since the diagnosis, you’re feeling anxious and having trouble sleeping. As a result, you’ve noticed that you’re arguing with your spouse or parents more often and have trouble finding time and energy to make dinner every night.
4 Stress-Reduction Techniques
After you’ve made a list, go through the following 4 categories of stress management techniques:
- Elimination. Can I completely remove the stressor with problem-solving?
- Modification. Can I make this situation less stressful?
- Change physical reaction. Can I change my physical reaction to the stressor from negative to positive?
- Change of attitude, perception, or cognitive appraisal. Can I change the way I feel about this situation to make it less stressful?
Dr. Fawzy emphasizes that it may take several rounds of trial and error before determining which combination of these 4 techniques works best for you.
“You are entitled to be angry, depressed, and upset when you hear the words that you have cancer,” Dr. Fawzy says. “But you are not required to stay that way.”
To read this entire article by Conquer Magazine for more stress-reducing tips, visit The Clearity Portal by clicking here.