The definition of stress is the physical pressure, pull or other force exerted on one thing by another.
Living in the 21st century, everyone experiences a lot of stress, after all, this is a fast-paced society. We constantly multi-task and squeeze more in our busy schedule. We do not spend enough time to take care of our soul. No wonder many feel stressed out!
The physiologic stress response is mediated by sympathetic nervous system and characterized by rapid heart beat, burning more sugar to generate heat and energy, faster breathing, dilated pupils... etc.; or simply put, the fight or flight response which is also essential for survival. Acute and short term stress is actually good. Many artists, writers or painters would admit that their best work were produced under stress or even borderline anguish. However, chronic stress and sustained stress response can be detrimental to our health.
Can chronic stress cause cancer? There is not enough evidence, however, there are basic science as well as epidemiologic studies strongly suggesting the link between stress, the beta-adrenergic system (sympathetic nervous system) and progression of cancer. Many cells in the body have beta-adrenergic receptors on their cell membrane, activation of these receptors can increase cancer cell aggressiveness and potential to spread!
Can drugs help this situation? Dr. Anil Sood and his colleagues at M.D. Anderson Hospital performed a retrospective review which showed women with ovarian cancer who also used beta-blockers such as Inderal (Propronolol) lived much longer than those who did not. Their finding was certainly not conclusive as we do not know many details about those women, such as body mass index, outcome of initial cytoreductive surgery, duration of beta-blocker usage, side effects of medication, the type of beta-blocker, etc. More research is needed in this topic.
Remember, it is not just about stress, it is the stress response. In other words, it is how we respond to stressful situation. Through training, such as different meditation techniques and cognitive behavior therapy, one can learn to dampen the intensity of stress response.
I typically provide acupuncture and mixture of Chinese herbs for stress/anxiety relief. Most patients benefit soon after beginning of therapy. In addition, I teach my patients breathing relaxation technique and a short and modified version of guided imagery. Many other tricks also work, such as expressive writing, art or music therapy, regular exercise, etc.