Whether you are newly diagnosed with prostate cancer, or coping with bone metastases, learning about chronic stress and its negative impact on your body is almost as critical to your healing as whatever treatment you choose.
Short-term stress, a single episode of acute stress, generally doesn't cause problems. However, chronic emotional stress, caused by situations or events that last over a period of time, takes a significant toll on the body. Furthermore, this kind of prolonged stress suppresses the immune system, profoundly affecting its ability to detect defective or cancerous cells and destroy them.
Persistent feelings of fear, anxiety and unrelieved stress trigger the fight-or-flight response system that our ancestors relied upon. When a threat is recognized, heart rate and blood pressure skyrocket, sugar pours into the blood, muscles tense for quick action, and the whole metabolism goes into survival mode. This is great if you're on the African savannah and you hear a lion growling outside your tent. However, Nature never intended this "On your mark! Get set! Go!" response to last more than a moment or two. So when the brain sends a threat message for which there is no swift resolution, the fight-or-flight system stays stuck on "Get set!." As a result, the immune system is locked into protection mode and is no longer capable of performing the remedial function that is our most powerful defense against cancer.
So when we feel unable to manage or control the changes in our lives caused by prostate cancer, it not only reduces our quality of life, but it is associated with poorer clinical outcomes. In fact, studies in mice, and in tests in human cancer cells grown in the laboratory have found that prolonged psychological stress can enhance a tumor's ability to grow and spread.
There is always the temptation to alleviate the stress overload of a potentially life-threatening diagnosis with risky behaviors such as drinking alcohol in excess, taking drugs, and over-eating. But this kind of "stress management" only further inhibits immune function. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle—which means eating well and staying physically active--supports the immune system. As do coping strategies such as relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, and visualization. And don't forget laughter—the ultimate antioxidant.
Here's how the Discovery Health Web describes the impact of laughter on the immune system: "When we laugh, natural killer cells which destroy tumors and viruses increase, along with Gamma-interferon (a disease-fighting protein), T cells (important for our immune system) and B cells (which make disease-fighting antibodies). As well as lowering blood pressure, laughter increases oxygen in the blood, which also encourages healing."
So find out what works for you so that stress does not get the best of you. If you can’t seem to get a handle on it, laugh your way back to health!