It's April - and Stress Awareness Month. "Stress awareness" is a funny phrase. When we're under stress, we're pretty wildly aware of it! Awareness campaigns run the gamut from humorous to deadly serious and everything in between. The focus of these campaigns can be specific like the fight to eradicate an illness (like cancer) or can focus on general help in managing life’s stresses better.
So let's talk about stress and health. There have been many studies about breast cancer and the things that affect it, including stress. Unfortunately, the studies about breast cancer and stress specifically are small and few - not comprehensive enough to make wide predictions about the general population. Because of this, you may find conflicting data on whether or not stress can increase cancer risk.
To take a step back and look more comprehensively at stress and whole body health, we've learned a lot. We know that our bodies react to our emotional life and acute stresses (recently, a man caught the exact moment of his heartbreak on his FitBit). Chronic stress can result in known effects on our cardiovascular and immune systems. We understand that stress is as inevitable as death and taxes. But perhaps the most powerful thing we can learn about stress is the way we handle and react to it can make an impressive difference in its effect on our bodies.
In Kelly McGonigle's 2013 TEDtalk, she corrects herself in years of health psychology practice. Turns out, stress doesn't have to be the boogey man. If a person perceives stress as dangerous, it is more likely to be. Conversely, if we take an easier approach to stress, it seems to harm us less. If we recognize that stress can motivate us and that we have techniques that can help us handle stress better, we can negate many of the bad effects of stress on our health. This is great news! Outlook is everything. And outlook is something we can improve in ourselves.
We don’t want to imply that stress can be handled with a magic wand and "voila!" But know that we can make changes (realizing it won’t be instantaneous) and know that a mindful approach to dealing with stress can be helpful for your psyche we well as your body.
So this month, you can begin to be aware of your ability to chart your own course with stress. And know that if you are in a stressful time, it doesn't have to negatively affect your health.