Penny Brohn UK

Help change life with cancer. For good

Stress and cancer


Stress can have a profound effect on our health and wellbeing, but can it cause cancer? In this article we’ll take a look at what happens to you when you’re experiencing a bout of stress and how you can manage it.

Stress and cancer

There is no strong evidence to suggest that stress can cause cancer. But without a doubt having cancer, or being close to someone who has cancer, can cause stress. Feeling stressed can also lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking heavily or overeating, which can increase the risk of some cancers.

What is stress?

We all need stress, in small amounts at least. Stress is what keeps us safe by alerting us to situations and events that could potentially cause us harm. However, when we're chronically or frequently stressed we release more of the hormones, adrenalin and cortisol, than we need. These hormones keep us safe when we need them to, but having too much of them can suppress our immune system.

The stress response can be triggered by thoughts as well as actual events. For instance, the stress response might get triggered when you’re stuck in traffic and late for work, or by things you see on television or in the news, when a physical reaction to fight or run away is not helpful.

We can easily get stuck in the stress response, which can be harmful to our health. When we’re stressed our bodies go into fight, flight or freeze mode and while we’re in that mode we just don’t function effectively. Our body takes its attention away from everything that isn’t essential to immediate physical survival. It stops paying attention to memory, digestion, or repairing cells and fighting infection.

Reacting to stress

Once the threat has passed, we move into relaxation mode. Our bodies have various ways of releasing acute stress, such as:

  • Shaking and crying.
  • Feeling agitated and unable to sit down.
  • You might want to share what happened with other people, perhaps wanting physical affection such as a hug.
  • You may feel very tired and want to go to sleep.

We can use some of these to deliberately to help us move away from the stress response, especially when the stress is something that we can’t really fight or run away from. Things we can do that help include physical activity, emotional expression and support and rest.

We can also learn particular techniques that not only help us move out of the stress response, but also build up our resistance to ongoing stressful situations, perhaps at work or in our relationships or environment.

Self-care techniques for managing stress

Self-care techniques can help you move from the stress response to the relaxation response, supporting your immune system and overall health and wellbeing. Learning and practising these techniques can help build up your resistance to stress. This can be very helpful in all sorts of situations in daily life and in our relationships.

We promote the following self-care techniques: 

Mindfulness brings attention to the present moment no matter what you are doing.  

Meditation - focuses and calms the mind, often seated.  

Relaxation - releases tension from the body/mind.  

Imagery - uses the imagination to affect our experience. 

Physical activity - Being active supports our bodies but also our mental, emotional and spiritual health. 

Join us for these regular online sessions:  

The Relaxation Room – Every Tuesday 2-2.45pm   

Caring for Cancer Yoga – Every Tuesday 6-7.15pm  

Stretch and Relax – Every Wednesday 4.30-5.25pm  

Strength and Stamina - Every Thursday 11.30am-12.25pm  

Build back to Strength – Every Thursday 4-4.45pm 

Exploring self-healing – Every fortnight 2-2.45pm  

Useful resources and further support

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