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Can you worry yourself sick?

Friday 1 April, 2011 by Laura

"You'll worry yourself sick!" My mother is fond of saying. But is it an old wive's tale or does stress really cause cancer?

The topic has been in the news recently with Bupa Health Foundation releasing the results of its Well-being After Breast Cancer study. The study found 58% of women who had had breast cancer felt it was caused by stress.

So is it true?

The link between cancer and stress has been closely scrutinised and studied for decades. The outcome - there is no significant evidence to prove stress causes cancer. In fact, studies suggest that it is not an important factor. What's interesting is that the way that stress is often elevated in our common psyche above real cancer factors such as diet, exercise and alcohol.

This was true of the Bupa study where only 2% of the women attributed their breast cancer to lifestyle factors. And also of a recent Cancer Council Victoria survey where 41% of respondents agreed stress was a very important factor in increasing your risk of cancer, while only 24% believed that alcohol was very important.

I can see why people might think that stress causes cancer - all those negative feelings can't be good for you. But the evidence is to the contrary.

Let's take a moment to consider the relationship between stress and some of the known risk factors for cancer. It is a pretty common reaction to come home after a stressful day at work and pour yourself a large glass of wine. Stress affects the amount that smokers smoke and over-eating is another common stress response.

While some people seemingly run on adrenaline, stress can be a dampener as well, leaving you feeling too tired to exercise or cook a decent meal. It can effect your overall motivation and joie de vivre; it can take over and make you feel that you don't have the time or inclination to do what you normally would.

We know that alcohol consumption, smoking, diet, weight, and lack of physical activity are all risk factors for cancer, as well as getting regular check-ups and being SunSmart. By changing the way you respond to stress you can prevent some of these bad behaviours from creeping up on you.

We've come up with a few stress-busting tips:

  • Get physical - go for a run, or a long walk, or punch a punch bag. Exercise has been found a good way to reduce stress levels. You'll have lots of lovely endorphins running around you body and you will feel energised.
  • Eat well - even if you don't have the time you'd like to cook meals make sure you try to eat well and pack lots of vegetables and fruit into your day.
  • Do fun activities - dancing is a great example. Whether it's at a class, club or in your lounge, the mix of raising your heart rate and the enjoyment in throwing some mad shapes is a great combination.

What's your healthy way to destress?

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