Can the Effects of Stress be Reversed?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. Regarding the article, “Positive Mindset Lowers Risk of Breast Cancer”, I have been hearing a lot about this lately and I am worried about it. And I know that worrying about it just causes more stress and therefore increases my chances for cancer or other major illnesses.

I have been going through a very stressful period of time for a long time now, although recently I have started feeling better. 10 years ago my brother and father committed suicide and my mother died from breast cancer all within 10 months of each other. Soon after this, my husband left me because he couldn’t handle my depression. This was all very traumatic for me and I was severely depressed for many years. I know that my depression and stress took quite a toll on me emotionally as well as physically. I gained 50lbs, my hair turned solid white, and I look tired and much older now. I don’t think I have any major physical illnesses right now, but I worry that sometime in the (near) future I will suffer from cancer or some other terminal illness because of the constant stress I have experienced.

I know there’s nothing I can do to change the past, but is there anything I can do, other than the obvious things like eating right and exercise, to lower my risk of getting cancer? I am still taking antidepressants, and I still have some “bad days”, but I try to get out and enjoy life as best I can. Is there anything I can do to “reverse” the effects of my past stress? Something like meditation maybe? Thanks

A. I am not sure if there is anything that you can do to reverse the effects of past stress. All that you may be able to do is to try to control or decrease current life stresses. As you mentioned, meditation may be a good stress reliever. Other people de-stress by taking yoga or similarly related exercise classes, learn relaxation techniques or they try hypnosis.

Health psychology research shows that people who have less stress also have a strong social support system. The theory is that when stress does occur in the lives of individuals who have the benefit of having a good support system, their stress is buffered by the help that they receive from those supportive individuals. People with smaller support systems may have a more difficult time reducing their stress because of a lack of help and support from others. The theory that a strong supportive system can help reduce stress is known as the stress-buffering hypothesis and was introduced into health psychology research in 1976 by John Cassel and Dr. Sidney Cobb.

I would recommend that you research this topic further or explore the different types of relaxation techniques that may work best for you. As I mentioned earlier, there may be no way to correct the effect of the past life stress but there may be something that you can do to alter the way in which you handle stress in the future.

A good place to begin your stress research may be at the website of Dr. Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa. He is a pioneer in the field of stress research and how it negatively impacts an individual’s health. His website has many stress/health related resources and can be found here. Thanks for writing.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Sep 2008

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2008). Can the Effects of Stress be Reversed?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 20, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/09/01/can-the-effects-of-aging-be-reversed/