There is no doubt that a diagnosis and treatment of cancer can be a stressful time for patients and family members. We know that there is a strong mind-body connection. Studies have shown that stress can alter the immune system in healthy individuals and more so in patients with a major illness like cancer. Although we can’t entirely eliminate stress from our lives, and some stress is actually good, there are ways to manage stress so that it doesn’t impact your psychological or physical functioning.
Identify the source of stress in your life. First it’s important to become aware of what the stressors are in your life. The reason for this is to identify if you have certain thoughts, feelings or behavior that may be increasing your stress. The next step is to try and reappraise the stressor and try to look at the situation in a different light. If you can reappraise the situation, your stress level may decrease in response.
Look at how you currently cope with stress. It’s just as important to recognize how you cope with stress and if your current coping strategies are healthy or unhealthy, helpful or unproductive. Some methods of coping with stress can make the situation worse.
Unhealthy ways to cope with stress
- Drinking too much
- Withdrawing from friends/family
- Sleeping too much
- Avoidance / procrastinating
Healthy ways to cope with stress
- Avoid unnecessary stress
- Alter the situation
- Adapt to the stress
- Acceptance of the things you cannot change
- Make time for fun and relaxation
Stress Management Strategy. Another helpful way to manage a stressful situation is to identify if the stressor is controllable or uncontrollable. If a stressor is controllable, then you can employ problem-focused coping strategies, such as making a to-do list or calling to set up appointments. However, if a stressor is uncontrollable, then any energy you put into this stressor is energy that is wasted. It is better to focus on the things you can control such as the way you chose to react to problems. If there are unresolved emotions or distress related to an uncontrollable stressor, it is important to engage in emotion-focused coping strategies such as emotional expression, relaxation, breathing, distraction or physical exercise.
If you’re interested in setting up an appointment with Aisha Kazi to learn how to incorporate stress management techniques into your life, contact the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program at (312) 563-2531 for more information.