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First things first, lets define it- stress is probably a familiar emotion for most, and describes mental strain in response to situations that put us under pressure. Examples of such situations are financial problems, examinations and relationship breakdowns, as well as physical illness- including cancer.
Stress varies from person to person, and whether or not a situation will cause stress depends on two things…
When subjected to a stressor, two systems in our body are activated as part of the ‘fight-or-flight’ response which prepares us to deal with potential threats. These systems are the ‘Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis’ and the ‘Autonomic Nervous System’- put simply, our hormones and our nerves!
Our hormonal system increases the level of cortisol in our blood, this hormone helps us mobilise our energy resources, and our nervous system increases our heart rate, dilates our airways and causes adrenaline release. All of this gives the feeling of ‘stress’.
Stress isn’t all bad. A little bit can help us change our thoughts and behaviours and pull on required resources to develop ways of coping with adverse situations.
However, prolonged high stress levels can exhaust our resources and have consequences on our wellbeing- this is known as ‘allostatic load’. Research has demonstrated that it may cause insomnia and thus fatigue, blockage of our arteries, increased inflammation, immune function suppression, insulin resistance and a decline in memory.
A diagnosis of cancer can come as a huge shock, and the subsequent appointments and treatments can be a stressor to both the patient and their loved ones. Of course, worry and heightened emotions around this time are entirely normal, however, to avoid added physical and mental difficulties, it is important to take steps to manage the symptoms of stress.
So, some simple but effective tips…
So, remember- feelings of anxiety are to be expected, but by employing some simple strategies you can keep these under control and prevent any troublesome consequences!
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