Managing Stress

December 2, 2009
Download MP3 (6.25 MB/6:50)

An illness such as cancer can be one of the most stressful events in a person's life. In this podcast, we'll discuss some practical tips for reducing stress.

Transcript: 

You’re listening to a podcast from Cancer.Net. This cancer information website is produced by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, known as ASCO, the world’s leading professional organization for doctors that care for people with cancer.

Our topic today is managing stress.                                         

An illness such as cancer can be one of the most stressful events in a person’s life. Most people feel some type of stress every day, and that is compounded when there is a diagnosis of cancer. The stress of cancer and its treatment may be increased even more by family, work, and financial concerns.

Stress has not been shown to cause cancer. However, chronic or ongoing stress may weaken the immune system, causing other health problems and decreasing feelings of well-being.

In this podcast, we’ll discuss some practical tips for reducing stress.  In addition, we’ll discuss how people with cancer can use stress management strategies and relaxation techniques to deal with stress and increase their sense of overall well-being. We’ll be offering a lot of suggestions during this podcast, and you may want to jot down the ones that appeal to you along the way. But, if you don’t have a pen and paper ready, don’t worry – You can always find this information online at www.cancer.net.

Let’s begin by outlining what can be done to avoid some sources of stress, known as stressors. Making some of these suggested changes can help you lower the number of stressors in your life.  

First, be aware of your limits. Allow yourself to say "no" when people ask you to take on tasks you don't have time or energy to complete. Cancer and its treatment may leave you feeling tired, and you may need to take on fewer tasks if your energy level is low.

It’s also important to prioritize your tasks and avoid over-scheduling. Make a list of the things you have to do and rank them in order of importance. If you don't have time to do everything, concentrate on the tasks and activities at the top of your list. When scheduling activities and appointments, allow time to finish one before starting the next. And, don’t schedule too many for the same day or week.

Next, when tackling a task, break it down into smaller steps. Working on one step at a time can make seemingly overwhelming problems easier to handle.

Also, ask for help. Family, friends, and coworkers are likely to offer their help, and while the idea of accepting help can be difficult at first, it can really reduce stressors over the long term. Think about what you need in advance, such as help with shopping or picking up a child from school, and let others complete these tasks. This includes financial problems. Ask an oncology social worker or a financial adviser familiar with cancer for advice on dealing with cancer-related insurance and financial matters.

And, be sure to concentrate on things you can control. Some things -- such as a doctor’s schedule or traffic-- are out of your control. What you can control is how you react to it. Remaining flexible in such situations may help keep your stress level low.

While you can hopefully reduce your overall stress, it’s not possible to eliminate all the stress in your life. Stress management strategies may help you better deal with stress in general and feel more relaxed and less anxious.  

Let’s  briefly look at eight strategies to help you manage stress in general. 

  1. Tip number one:  Get frequent, moderate exercise. Regular physical activity, such a 30-minute walk, swim, or bike ride, lowers stress. Your doctor can help you create an appropriate exercise plan based on your needs, physical abilities, and fitness level; be sure to talk with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

  2. Two:  Schedule social activities. Plan times to socialize with family and friends. Having supportive friends and family is one of the best ways to reduce stress.

  3. Number three:  Eat well and get plenty of sleep. Maintaining a healthy diet and getting enough rest will give you more energy to deal with daily stressors.

  4. Four:  Join a support group. Support groups offer you the chance to talk about your feelings and fears with others who have had similar experiences. You can also talk with a trusted friend, a counselor, or a social worker.

  5. Five:  Schedule daily leisure time. Spend time doing an activity you find relaxing, such as reading, gardening, or listening to music.

  6. Number six:  Do things you enjoy and make you laugh. Eat at your favorite restaurant or watch your favorite television show. Since laughter also reduces stress, try seeing a funny movie or reading a humorous book.

  7. Seven:  Write in a journal. Writing about the stresses and events in your life provides a private way to express your feelings.

  8. And tip number eight:  Learn a new hobby. Trying a new and challenging activity gives you a sense of accomplishment and provides distraction from daily worries.

In addition to these tips, you may want to consider relaxation techniques. Most of these techniques must be learned and practiced to become effective. However, many can be learned in a few sessions with a counselor, and your local hospital or cancer center may have classes. The following techniques can be done daily and at specific stressful times, such as during a medical procedure.

Relaxed or deep breathing, which is deep, slow breathing while concentrating on filling the lungs and relaxing muscles.

Mental imagery or visualization helps you create peaceful and relaxing images in your mind.

Progressive muscle relaxation is the tightening and then relaxing of muscles, starting at either the toes or the head and progressively relaxing all the muscles either up or down the body.

Meditation can help you learn to relax your mind and concentrate on an inner sense of calm.

Biofeedback is a way to relax and control your body's response to stress by paying attention to signals from the body.

And finally, Yoga is a technique that focuses the mind on breathing and posture to promote relaxation and to reduce fatigue.

In conclusion, reducing stress, performing strategies to manage unavoidable stress, and engaging in relaxation techniques can help people with cancer learn how to better deal with stress and increase their feelings of physical and emotional well-being.

For more information on this topic, contact your doctor or visit www.cancer.net. Thank you for listening to this Cancer.Net podcast.