How does stress affect body and mind?


Question from LindaB: How does stress affect your body, and your ability to think?
Answers - Mitch Golant That's an excellent question because it draws into two important areas. What is the mind/body connection? What is the relationship? The vehicle of that is stress. But we have to say first that cancer is a very complex disease. In many ways, it is biological as well as genetic. When we talk about stress we talk about long-term unremitting stress. There are some forms of stress that are long term, where the end is unknown. It's one kind of stress to stress over a final exam and then you are done. It's a different stress if you are in a relationship that makes you unhappy or you are caring for an elderly parent. There is research that shows this long-term stress has physiological impacts. But does that cause cancer? No one has that answer to date. The work that we are doing to reduce stress and thereby enhance function through support groups is looking at just the answer to that question.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. How does stress make your body feel?
Mitch Golant There are a number of different responses physiologically. Often you can experience a tightening in your stomach, anxiety, agitation. For others, sleeping more or eating more is the response. There is no one unique response, but all of those taken together give you a clue that there is a message being sent to you by your body that you are experiencing stress. You can also see it as irritation, edginess, or anger.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. How about lack of ability to concentrate or low energy?
Mitch Golant Sure. Low energy. Those pieces are very important because often women with breast cancer talk about struggles to exercise and how exhausting and stressful it is just to deal with the disease itself.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. How about the effect on your GI system, like constipation, belly pain, etc.?
Mitch Golant That would be absolutely true. Irritable bowel syndrome is often linked to stress response.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. Many of my patients experience hot flashes, problems with memory and sometimes confusion about simple things. Sometimes crying for no apparent reason is an issue. And women who are before menopause may have a further disruption of their normal menstrual cycle.

On Wednesday, September 19, 2001, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called Stress and Your Immune System. Mitch Golant, Ph.D. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answered your questions on how stress affects your treatment, and what you can do to boost your immune system.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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