Stress and Resilience
Stress is woven into the very fabric of life and we have a physiological response that is hardwired into us— the fightorflight response— that keeps us out of imminent danger. But when stressful events become overwhelming and switch from being an acute daily occurrence into a chronic issue, the change can trigger not just negative psychological and emotional reactions but it can also cause physiological damage. A growing body of scientific data and research show how stress impacts all aspects of our lifestyle and all aspects of our physical health.
In terms of stress and cancer, we now know that stress modulates key biological processes linked with cancer risk and progression, and that chronic stress is associated with worse outcomes for those with cancer. In fact, chronic stress dysregulates the immune system, decreasing our body’s natural defense against cancer, and leads to increased inflammation. At the same time, stress promotes tumor growth by releasing into the bloodstream proteins and hormones that help tumors enlist the body’s resources for cancer’s singular purpose— to grow. Most frightening is that we now know stress has the capacity to modulate key cellular processes, literally down into the nucleus of every cell in our body, and modify genetic pathways that make our bodies more hospitable to cancer growth.
While increasing research points to the health dangers of stress, the good news is that stress is not genetic. None of us are condemned to live a stressful life. In fact, stress is something we can actively control and manage. Researchers at UCLA found that caregivers, who often face intense levels of chronic stress, were able to change their inflammatory profiles by engaging for twelve minutes a day in a specially designed yoga meditation. What’s more, the directed meditation had a dramatically greater effect on their biomarkers compared to having caregivers rest and listen to calming music.