Have you felt like there are not enough hours in the day, unexpected bills keep coming, or your career responsibilities are too demanding? How do you react to all these family, financial or personal situations? Have you felt as you are going to collapse at any moment? We have all been involved in these stressful and difficult situations at some point of our lives. But how is this affecting our health? And how can we handle it? There is no question that stress can result in harmful effects to our bodies. Though little evidence exists about any direct cause-effect relationship between stress and breast cancer or heart disease, excessive stressful situations can lead to unhealthy behaviors that will contribute to risk factors of these diseases. For example, people trying to ‘manage/cope’ with stress often engage in behaviors like smoking, drinking alcohol, physical inactivity and overeating. Unhealthy stress management responses like these will increase our blood pressure and cholesterol levels. What are some healthier ways to manage stress? Let’s take a look: Usually people relate the word ‘stress’ to something negative. However, feeling stressed is completely normal. In fact, certain amounts of stress can turn out to be positive – it all depends on how you cope with it. Our body is designed to manage some level of stress (i.e. stress that helps you get to work at a certain time). Achieving an optimal level of stress can even be motivational, increase your memory, boost your immune system and help you focus on important tasks. Of course, our bodies are not made to handle chronic stress. Chronic stress makes us feel tired, depressed, angry, forgetful, out of control, or anxious. You might also experience headaches, back strain, or stomach pains. While we all perceive and handle stress in various ways, the key is to figure out what triggers your over-stress and how to cope with it. Here are some great ways that may help you: 1. GET ACTIVE: Exercise! Whether it’s a walk, a swim or yoga, physical activity will increase endorphins – the hormones that make you feel good. Lifting weights will help you drain accumulated tension. Being regularly active will also reduce your risk for developing breast cancer or heart disease. 2. BE POSITIVE: Be self-confident. Welcome good humor. This will help you calm down, relax, and control stress. Try to turn any negative thinking into positive thinking! 3. BE PROUD: Don’t try to be perfectionist, nobody is. Just be proud of who you are. 4. QUIT SMOKING: Even though many people see smoking as a stress reliever, studies have shown that smoking causes more stress than it relieves. Smoking is a short-term fix with many long-term health problems as a result. 5. LIMIT ALCOHOL AND CAFFEINE INTAKE: Excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption can aggravate stress and even trigger panic attacks. It can also increase your blood pressure. Instead, try substituting these for decaf coffee or tea and limiting alcohol consumption. 6. REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT! Focus on eating energy-boosting foods like fruits and snacks containing omega-3, like nuts. Incorporate unsaturated fats (good fats) like avocado, salmon and seeds. Consume lots of vegetables and be sure to eat whole grain foods. Don’t skip meals and don’t wait more than four hours without eating. Never forget that maintaining a healthy diet is key to living a healthy lifestyle, thus reducing your risk for breast cancer and heart disease. 7. CHEW GUM: Reach for a stick of gum! Studies have shown that it helps reduce cortisol levels and as such, stress. Go for “Sugar-Free” options to avoid increased sugar intake. 8. CALL A FRIEND: This will calm you down and allow you to share your feelings, often relieving some of the pressure. 9. SLEEP: Try to sleep 6-8 hours each night. Studies have shown that people who sleep less have reduced insulin levels and increased levels of cortisol, which increases appetite. Your metabolism will become slower and stress will increase. 10. ACCEPT THAT YOU CANNOT CONTROL EVERYTHING 11. RELAX: Listen to calming music, reading a book, doing yoga and breathing deeply for a few minutes each day are just a few ideas. 12. LAUGH: Studies have proven that laughing releases “happiness hormones” (such as dopamine) and decreases cortisol and adrenaline levels, making your nervous system know that you are happy! Sources: American Heart Association, Reader’s Digest, Smokefree Women, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, National Cancer Institute
How to be there, and be yourself when a friend or loved one is diagnosed We are each of us angels with only one wing. And we can only fly embracing each other. ~ Luciano de Crescenzo Every three minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer and one in eight women will be diagnosed in her lifetime. That means virtually every woman will be touched by breast cancer at some point in her life. Whether you, your mother, sister or friend is diagnosed, you are part of the fight against this deadly disease and the support you provide to a friend or loved one can often prove to be crucial to their recovery. In a 2006 Journal of Clinical Oncology study that followed 2,800 female participants, women who reported a strong support circle and felt they could rely on friends and family were twice as likely to survive their diagnosis as women who felt socially isolated. “Social-emotional support, often provided by a confidant, may reduce stress and . . . might improve [protection] against cancer recurrence,” the lead author of the study, Candyce H. Kroenke, a researcher at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, wrote. “Investigators have suggested that social-emotional support may be more critical than instrumental [medical] support for breast cancer survival.” What do you say? Often when a woman learns that someone she knows is battling breast cancer; she struggles with how to respond. “How should I act?” she thinks, or “What can I possibly say?” The fact is that a breast cancer diagnosis is scary. Family members, spouses/partners, friends and other loved ones often feel the same emotions as the person diagnosed: fear, shock, anger, and sadness. The best way to react to a friend, relative or coworker who you know has breast cancer is to be yourself! Every woman reacts to her diagnosis differently, so the best thing you can do is be present, be there for her, and always be available to listen, to laugh, to cry and encourage – just as you always would. How can you help? Breast cancer doesn’t care who you are or how busy your life is. When it strikes, often families become overwhelmed by all the “things” that still need to be done. Kids still need to be picked up from school. Lawns still need to be mowed, and families still need to eat. In addition to emotional support, sometimes the best way to support a loved one in their fight against breast cancer is to create an informal network with other friends and relatives to take turns pitching in with things like grocery shopping, babysitting, being there for appointments and other activities that can alleviate the day-to-day stress, allowing her to focus on her fight. Here are four things to remember (excerpted from rethinkbreastcancer.com): – Be There – Ask what you can do to help and provide moral support. Offer to help with daily chores and activities or go to medical appointments to help record important information. – Know Her Type – There are many different types of breast cancer and it is important for a woman to find out her type of breast cancer at diagnosis. Together, ask about the tests that are available to identify her type of breast cancer, as some types, such as ‘HER2-positive’ breast cancer, require individualized treatment. – Ask Questions – Support her in asking questions so she knows more about her treatment, what to expect, how long it will take, side effects, etc. – Empower Yourselves – Help her learn as much as she can because information is power. Do research together and make sure you both learn the terminology. Take advantage of the information available from the different breast cancer organizations. Supporting a loved one in their fight against breast cancer will help her tremendously. Even the smallest gestures can have a big impact. Breast cancer is tough, but women are tougher, and every diagnosis is a reminder of how critical it is to stand together in the battle to eradicate this deadly disease.