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Stress can have a negative effect on cancer. Dr. Lorenzo Choen, Ph.D., director of the Integrative Medicine Program at M.D. Anderson said, “There is extensive evidence that stress suppresses cell-mediated immunity, a component of the immune system involved in tumor surveillance.”(1) In other words, high levels of stress can negatively affect your body’s ability to find and destroy tumors. Hence, reducing stress in your life, can probably help prevent cancer, and help you fight it if you have gotten it.
Effect of Stress Management on Melanoma
Fighting a challenge like melanoma can be very difficult and cause a significant amount of stress. Unfortunately, as you have probably heard, stress doesn’t help your fight. In fact, too much stress can sometimes have a negative impact. Hence, managing your stress level is an important part of what you can do to help. The good news is that there are many well tested methods for stress management that work. Not all of them will work well for all people, but the important part is to try a number of them until you find the right ones for you.
We manage stress successfully when we learn to control our responses and avoid overreaction. Hence, stress management is a skill, like riding a bike, and once you learn the techniques, they will stay with you forever. Keep in mind, however, that learning the techniques usually requires regular practice – once a week is not enough for most people in the beginning. Once a day is more appropriate if you want to see dramatic improvement in your skills2.
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How to Use Stress Management
Here are some techniques for managing stress. Not all of them will work well for all people, but the important part is to try a number of them until you find the right ones for you.
When you use deep relaxation techniques, you get yourself into what is called an “alpha state” which describes the brain-wave patterns you exhibit in that state. It is in this state that your immune function benefits the most from your relaxation(3). Here are some deep relaxation techniques you can try:
- Sit in a chair, or lie down, making sure you are very comfortable
- Start by taking very slow, deep breaths. You should breath from your abdomen (you can tell you’re doing this by placing a hand on your stomach. You want to see that hand rise and fall significantly with every deep breath). Do this a number of times until you start to feel relaxed. Try to clear your mind and focus only on your breath coming in slowly, and going out.
- Sometimes listening to soft or soothing music can help you focus on the breathing and relaxing. Sometimes people will chant the word “om” slowly and deeply. Just type in “chanting om” at www.youtube.com and you will see many examples of how to do “om” chanting.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation:
Another technique for stress management is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), and has been used clinically since the late 1930’s(4). The basic practice behind PMR, and why it works, is that you tense and then relax different muscles in your body. When you relax them, your body starts to feel more relaxed. This happens because if you do it correctly, the muscle become more relaxed than they were before you started tensing them. And more relaxed muscles physiologically lead to a more relaxed total body, when then leads to mental relaxation. For a complete writeup on the technique, see the following website: http://www.guidetopsychology.com/pmr.htm.
This is a technique where a trained expert can take measurements of your levels of stress and then teach you techniques to manage that stress by allowing you to immediately see the results of your stress management on your measured stress levels. Hence, through biofeedback, you can actually proactively work on and refine your skills for managing stress in real-time(5). Research into Biofeedback has been going on for a long time. In 1961, Neal Miller first proclaimed that the autonomic nervous system could be trained and controlled. In plain English, when you commonly consider involuntary functions of your body, can actually be trained and controlled to respond in the way you want them to. Since then, people have used biofeedback to lower their blood pressure, increase hand temperature on command, relieve arterial constriction
When we our stressed, our breathing rate tends to go up significantly, and we take shallow breaths as opposed to long, deep breaths. Hence, by practicing deep, slow breathing when we start to feel stressed, we send electrical and chemical signals to our brain that it should be relaxed, not stressed(2).
The scientific evidence that supports laughter as a positive and effective therapy is enormous. This began when Norman Cousins cured his own degenerative spinal disease, from which he had less than 0.2% chance of recovering from, simply by developing and practicing a humor protocol that resulted in him laughing hard for 15 minutes a day. This case was later published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1979. Now, 30+ years later, there is an entire field of science (psychoneuroimmunology), that includes the study of humor on the immune system. Dr. Lee Berk, a professor at LLU’s School of Medicine and Public Health says that, “If you took what we know now about the capability of laughter to manipulate the immune system, and bottled it, it would need FDA approval.”(6) In other words, humor can be so effective as an aid in bolstering the immune system, an important part of fighting cancer, that it is easily as effective as many of the drugs your doctor prescribes to you. Dr. Berk and his team have demonstrated that humor reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and boosts the immune system by raising the level of T-cells, Gamma-interferon, B cells, all of which are powerful parts of your immune system. Hence, laughter can be a powerful tool in your fight against melanoma. So spend time with friends and family that make you laugh. Watch lots and lots of funny movies and television shows. See comedy shows or taped comedy broadcasts. Read funny comics or joke books – maybe even start and end each day with a funny joke.
One of the greatest benefits of using stress management techniques in the treatment of any health condition is that there are virtually no side effects associated with them.
(1) OncoLog, MD Anderson, November 2005, Vol. 50, No. 11
(2) Everyone's Guide To Cancer Therapy, 4th Edition, Margaret Tempero (Editor), Sean Mulvihill (Editor). Reference to study done by Dr. David Spiegle of Stanford University, page 56
(3) Everyone'S Guide To Cancer Therapy, 4th Edition, Chapter 31, Relaxation and cancer recovery, Lenore Dollinger, RN, PhD
(4) Jacobson, E. (1938). Progressive relaxation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
(5) Living with Cancer, Stephen P. Hersh, MD
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