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The Connection Between Stress, Your Thoughts and Illness

The great endocrinologist Dr. Hans Selye stated that ‘“Disease is the body’s inability to deal with mental, emotional or physical stress.”   


Stress and trauma play a major role in most health conditions. Breast cancer, of course, is no exception. There are different sources and different types of stress. Simply, for the purpose of this article, we’ll define stress as ‘the body’s reaction to a threat – real or perceived – to its well-being.’ 

What’s the impact of stress on your body’s health? In general, stress puts your body into a fight or flight response in your Autonomic Nervous System. ANS is comprised of two component systems: Sympathetic and Para-Sympathetic, each of which has a specific function. To simplify matters I’ll use the following analogy - Sympathetic System will be termed as a fight or flight state while Para-Sympathetic System we will call a wine and dine state. Each of these states have importance and relevance and therefore there is very good reason why we need to activate these states.

For instance if a person walks down the street and is mugged, the Sympathetic System will kick in. They’ll have a chance to fight or get out of the situation by running away. In either case, their blood supply will be directed toward their major muscle groups to make sure they're ready for action. Their breathing is going to be shortened, mouth will get dry, digestive process is going to be shut down, heart is going to palpate faster, bladder and bowels are going to contract and cortisone (adrenaline) levels are going to be released to their maximum. This is a very efficient way to assure survival no matter what the challenge presented at the moment. 

By contrast your Para-Sympathetic System is the exact opposite in function. As one wines and dines, or in a relaxed state, breathing becomes much slower, heart rhythm slows down, they start secreting saliva and are ready to digest and eliminate being in a relaxed state. The reason why I’m illustrating the function of the Sympathetic and Para-Sympathetic systems is very important because most of us are in a Sympathetic mode most of the day. Think about it for yourself: We eat on the run, drink coffee during our commute, deal with stressful or unpleasant situations at home and at work, etc. Guess what effect it has on our physical well-being? This daily grind is slowly diminishing our body’s ability to digest or eliminate properly, high cortisol levels create inflammation in our body and turn most of what we eat into fat, and our hormonal levels are stressed and become imbalanced, all of which increases risk of disease.

However, it is not only our daily occurrences and actions that activate the Sympathetic mode. Research has shown that, even more frequently, our anxious or negative thoughts will trigger the same responses. And since we tend to identify ourselves with our thoughts this can become even more damaging to our health. To put it simply, one of the major reasons why people get sick and age prematurely is because we live in a Sympathetic or a fight or flight-induced world.

You are not just a physical body. Your emotions and thoughts directly influence your physical health. That’s not all bad news! While almost everyone can use some help in this area, the fact is you can attain real health and well-being by taking new approaches to activate your Para-Sympathetic state as a source of your health and well-being. My advice to you is to create a plan of action on how you’re going to de-stress in a healthy way. Perhaps going for a walk, spending time listening to music, reading a book, meditating, or whatever it is that you find enjoyable and relaxing will bring you back to the Para-Sympathetic state.  Make sure that you create this daily ritual for yourself and turn it into a place of refuge and personal healing. 


Alexander Mostovoy is a clinician, writer, researcher, and public speaker, and is recognized as a leading authority on breast health and cancer prevention. He has lectured extensively across Canada, the United States, South America, and Europe, and has educated and trained physicians in breast cancer prevention and the use of medical thermography. He is the best selling author of the book Breast Cancer Is A Preventable Disease and a co-creator of the Breast Cancer Prevention Global Virtual Conference. He is currently in the post-production stage of a documentary on Breast Cancer called Daisies Do Not Grow In Cement.