Breast Health and Stress Levels: How To Manage Both
Prioritizing our mental health has become a significant point of discussion over the last few years, particularly after the pandemic. One of the key ways to look after your mental health is to manage stress levels.
Living with high levels of stress and anxiety not only impacts your mental health but your physical health as well. But is there a link between breast health and stress levels? And can reducing your stress lower your risk of breast cancer?
Keep reading more about the relationship between breast cancer and stress and managing your stress levels.
Is stress a risk factor for breast cancer?
While many women have felt that stress played a role in their breast cancer diagnosis, there have been many conflicting findings around their direct link. Numerous studies have found a direct link between breast health and stress, while other studies have found no correlation between the two.
A study of 858 women in Poland looked at whether the cumulative effect of stress over time (divorce, death of a loved one, etc.) was linked with breast cancer rates. The study found that young women who had endured traumatic life events had an increased breast cancer risk.
Conversely, a study of 106,612 women 16 or older in the United Kingdom found that women who reported frequent or continuous stress had about the same risk of breast cancer as women who reported occasional or no stress.
Whether there is a direct link between breast health and stress or not, anything you can do to reduce stress will significantly influence your quality of life.
It’s unrealistic to think that we can avoid stress entirely. From dealing with major life events to daily living, many things can bring on the anxiety we have no control over. What we do have control over, however, is ensuring that stress doesn’t become chronic.
Chronic or ongoing stress can weaken your immune system, leaving you prone to diseases and other health concerns. It can also encourage cancer to grow and spread.
Can cortisol levels affect your breast health?
Your hormones play a key role in the health of your breasts. If your hormones are out of balance and you have high cortisol levels, they may impact your breast health.
Cortisol is a stress hormone the adrenal glands release. Studies indicate that stressful life events, as well as day-to-day stress, produce elevated cortisol levels years after exposure. This makes sense, as cortisol is what helps your body deal with stressful situations—often referred to as your “fight or flight” system.
While the short-term release of cortisol is good, when your cortisol levels are high for too long, this stress hormone can have adverse effects. For example, exposure to stress-related cortisol release has been proposed to be associated with increased breast cancer risk. Additionally, among other issues, it can lead to weight gain, insomnia or difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure—which are all breast cancer risk factors.
8 healthy ways to manage stress
The best way to reduce stress is to remove its cause. But, that’s usually impossible when it comes to the types of life events that cause chronic stress.
While you may be unable to remove stress, you can find healthy ways to manage it.
Here are eight healthy ways to manage stress and breast health:
1. Talk to a professional
Talk it out as often as you need to. While you can often find friends or family members to talk to, sometimes it’s better to talk to a professional. A psychiatrist or psychologist can teach you healthy ways to manage your stress.
2. Get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep is essential to proper immune function. While the recommended amount is around eight hours a night, everyone is different.
Ways to optimize your sleep include:
- A bedtime routine
- Following a regular sleep schedule
- Incorporating more exercise in your day
- Limiting screen time before bed
- Avoiding caffeine intake later in the day
- Limiting nicotine and alcohol
3. Acknowledge your stress
When facing chronic stress, it’s essential to take it seriously. And that starts with acknowledging that you’re stressed. It’s important to understand the negative consequences of stress when it comes to cancer risk factors and take steps to better manage your stress levels.
Train yourself to be aware of your thoughts, breathing, heart rate, and other signs of tension, as this helps you recognize stress when it begins. When you’re aware of your stress, you become an objective observer of your stress instead of a victim of it.
4. Practice mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation has been proven to combat stress. It gives your mind a break from being stressed and can greatly improve your mood and how you approach stressful situations. Studies have also shown lowered cortisol levels after regularly practicing mindfulness.
When starting a mindful meditation routine, it’s a good idea to prioritize at least 20 minutes daily. You’ll quickly start seeing the benefits, making it easier to incorporate it more into your daily routine.
5. Schedule more exercise into your weekly routine
Numerous studies have shown regular exercise helps to reduce stress and improve overall health, which can help lower cortisol over time. Exercise has also been associated with greater resilience to acute stress. It may even lower some of the adverse health effects of stress.
However, too much intense exercise in a week can have an adverse effect. Avoid going overboard and aim for around 150–200 minutes of low- to moderate-intensity exercise each week.
6. Don’t forget about having fun
It can be hard to let loose and enjoy yourself when going through a stressful event in your life. But it’s one of the best ways to reduce stress and keep your cortisol levels down.
Laughing promotes the release of endorphins and suppresses stress hormones, which is linked to better moods, reduced stress and a stronger immune system. Interestingly, both natural and forced laughing work—sometimes you’ve just got to “fake it till you make it.”
Besides fake laughing, you can also take up new hobbies and activities. They both help take your mind off your stresses and promote feelings of well-being.
Music also helps. Music can make you happier, whether it’s putting your favorite music on blast and dancing it out or switching to more relaxing tunes to help you relax.
7. Eat nutritious foods
The food we eat fuels not only our body but also our mind. Sure, a delicious chocolate cake can undoubtedly improve your mood, but it should be enjoyed in moderation.
Regular high added sugar intake may result in elevated cortisol levels. There’s also a strong correlation between a healthy gut microbiome and improved mental health. Understanding your gut and consuming foods to support a healthy gut may help reduce stress, anxiety and improve your overall health.
Foods to incorporate into your diet include dark chocolate, whole grains, legumes, lentils, whole fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, green tea and water. Always lots of water.
8. Have regular health check-ups
Stress can cause multiple health issues, so it’s important to have regular health check-ups. Early detection remains the cornerstone of disease control and can improve survival, lower morbidity, and reduce the cost of care.
When it comes to monitoring your breast health, Celbrea® helps you stay on top of your regular breast cancer screening. This device aims to add to doctors’ existing standard evaluation protocols with a quick, painless examination.
Reducing your stress levels will always be beneficial
Whether there’s a direct link between breast health and stress or not, reducing your stress levels will always contribute to a healthier lifestyle. Along with speaking with a healthcare professional, adopting healthier lifestyle habits—like prioritizing sleep, exercise, mindfulness and healthy eating—can help naturally reduce your cortisol levels.