The stress connection

cup-hot-handsAt the moment I’m in the middle of radioactive iodine treatment. I started the process a couple weeks ago and did the larger “kill dose” a few days ago. I’ve had a lot of time lately to think about how stress is connected to cancer and really any illness. Everyone is always saying that stress worsens symptoms and can cause someone to be more sick. But how does that happen? How is it that stress, worry, and anxiety exasperate a physical illness? And how do we eliminate (or even reduce) stress in our lives in order to be healthier and happier?

I believe I’ve started the process of understanding the stressors in my life, where I can eliminate and reduce stress, and how to handle the stressors that remain. A lot of the things that I thought were important for so long, no longer are. Such as cleaning. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like to live in a pig sty, but it’s about priorities. Playing with my kids is the most important part of my life. And I can’t clean the house like I want to and have the energy to play with the kids. So guess what wins?

There’s a great analogy I read recently, written by Christine Miserandino, about how having a chronic illness affects energy. It’s called the Spoon Theory. Read about it HERE.

A lot of times I have to argue with myself about remembering what’s important and focusing on my top priorities. My kids and husband are by far #1. And right now my health has moved to the top of the list too. Which means making changes to the way I live the rest of my life. It’s difficult though to shift things around, especially when my responsibilities and obligations haven’t changed. But I’ve come to realize that healing can only take place through rest, stillness and balance. Stress must also be balanced. While some stress is part of life, I believe that most people try to live and work in too much stress. And we wonder why everyone is afflicted with so many conditions and illnesses. According to Healthline.com, stress causes complications to every system of the body. Just some of the conditions it can cause or worsen include: heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety, depression, asthma, indigestion, headache, mood changes, and pain. But the worst side effects of stress and the hormone stress causes (cortisol), in my opinion, are the effects on the immune system.

From Healthline.com:

Over time, cortisol compromises your immune system, inhibiting histamine secretion and inflammatory response to foreign invaders. People under chronic stress are more susceptible to viral illnesses like influenza and the common cold. It increases risk of other opportunistic diseases and infections. It can also increase the time it takes to recover from illness or injury.

So basically, stress and cortisol provide the perfect environment for illness to happen. So it sounds easy… cut the stress, cut the illness. Well I think it goes deeper than that. The amount of stress we put ourselves under just to manage our lives, is the same thing that is causing us to not live the lives we want. So again I ask, how can we decrease stress enough to live a happy, healthy life? Well maybe it’s the small things. The simple changes and the daily decisions we make to focus on the important things, the parts of life that bring us joy, give us rest, and allow us balance in a highly unbalanced world. Maybe the key is to search our hearts for that which gives us peace. And choose to counteract stress with stillness.

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