Coping With Emotions

How to Deal with Stress and Stay Healthy

If you are struggling with how to deal with stress that comes with a busy life, you aren't alone. Stress might be common, but prolonged and unmanaged stress can lead to serious health concerns like weight gain, which could lead to diseases such as cancer.

Life is busy, and your schedule is almost always full of obligations. If you are struggling with how to deal with stress that comes with a busy life, you aren’t alone. Stress might be common, but excessive stress can be a major negative influence on your overall mental and physical health. In fact, The Mayo Clinic reports that prolonged and unmanaged stress can lead to health concerns like weight gain — which in turn could lead to cancer among other diseases.

Why is Stress Dangerous?

Stress is inevitable, and in most cases, it’s generally safe. Your body is built to handle regular daily stress. However, stress that goes unmanaged can take its toll. Unmanaged stress levels can lead people to turn to unhealthy coping behaviors such as overeating, drinking alcohol or abusing drugs, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. These poor habits can lead to an increased risk of multiple types of diseases, including cancer.

How Can Stress Affect Cancer?

Stress may not be directly linked to getting cancer, but it can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms that can lead to an increased cancer risk. For example, someone who turns to smoking as a stress management tool will have a higher risk of lung cancer. But excessive stress can affect results, side effects and mood while undergoing cancer treatment protocol. According to the National Cancer Institute, patients who better cope with stress seem to have a lower rate of depression, anxiety and disease symptoms. Conversely, cancer patients who do not handle stress in a healthy way can engage in risky behaviors like alcohol abuse and overeating.

How Can You Manage Stress?

If you find yourself experiencing side effects from unmanaged stress, such as sleep disturbances or appetite changes, it is wise to learn and develop coping skills as soon as possible. The Mayo Clinic reports that stress can cause your body to release extra adrenaline during the “fight or flight” response. So, when stress is constant, the body is perpetually in this excited state. Practice skills such as deep breathing, meditation and other relaxation techniques to train your body to calm down in times of stress or anxiety. Mindfulness, or living in the present moment, can be a healthy coping skill for stress management. Consider trying out meditation, yoga, tai chi or another practice that requires you to focus on what is happening right at that moment — as opposed to hours or days ahead.

Stress can become unmanageable when your schedule is overwhelming. Pare down your obligations and begin to write realistic to-do lists at the beginning of each day. Don’t over schedule yourself, and prioritize what needs to be completed first. It can be helpful to talk to others about your stresses. Whether you choose to talk to your spouse, trusted friend, pastor or a mental health professional, finding a listening ear and talking it out can often lead to a feeling of peace and calm.

If you are a patient or caregiver experiencing stress, take a look at the counseling services and support groups available to you at UVA Cancer Center.

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Haley Burress
Haley Burress