According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), chronic stress is linked to a propensity towards depression, anxiety, headaches, insomnia and a higher rate of viral infections such as colds and flus. Sufferers of chronic stress may also experience weakened immune systems, as well as issues with digestion and fertility. Stress has also been linked to a wide range of chronic illnesses.
The NCI also points out that individuals prone to chronic psychological stress are more inclined towards habits which may elevate cancer risk, such as an unhealthy diet, drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes.
A 2011 study performed at the University of Iowa tested the effects of isolation – a condition which increases stress – on mice with ovarian tumors. The research team found that the tumors of the mice who experienced chronic stress from isolation had significantly higher rates of spreading to their lymph nodes and lungs compared to the control group, which was not isolated.
Another study performed by researchers at Ohio State University and published this past August found a connection between activation of the stress gene ATF3 in tumor cells and the spread of breast cancer. Researchers studied the expression of ATF3 in the immune system cells in nearly 300 women with breast cancer, and found that cancer outcomes were worse when the gene expressed.
Follow-up studies on mice by Ohio State researchers showed that mice with breast cancer tumors that were modified to not express the ATF3 gene had less metastasis of their tumors, while mice that did have the gene in expression had more metastasis of their tumors.
Normally, the ATF3 gene works to cause cells to self-destruct if they are damaged. In the case of cancer, however, this study suggests that the tumor cells trick the immune cells that are present in the area of the tumor to express ATF3, therefore giving the cancer an “escape route to other areas of the body.”
Regarding the mouse study, senior author Tsonwin Hai says, “the cancer cells were always the same, but we had different hosts. The primary tumors were similar in size, but only in the host that can express ATF3 – the stress gene – did the cancer cells metastasize efficiently.
This suggests that the host stress response can help cancer to metastasize. If the body is in perfect balance, there isn’t much of a problem. When the body gets stressed, that changes the immune system. And the immune system is a double-edged sword.”
If you suffer from chronic stress, for the sake of your health, it is imperative to try to reduce it and reach a place of peace and balance within yourself. Meditation is a great way to find your center, and coax mental, emotional and even physical stress to leave your body.
This ancient practice is rooted in the principle of ‘no mind,’ where everything outside of the present moment is allowed to naturally fall away. With daily repetition, you may find that meditation is the perfect way to make any form of lingering stress a thing of the past.
Organic herbs such as chamomile and kava-kava root have helped many reach a state of relaxation, as have essential oils including lavender and ylang-ylang. If you find that you have a lot of built-up tension, and are not able to overcome it, talk to a natural health practitioner about what options may work for your individual needs.
While stress is a natural response to certain situations, if it becomes chronic, it can harm you and significantly lower your quality of life. Finding a way to let go that works for you is absolutely crucial to your overall well-being.