Several years ago, when My Lovely Wife and I ran our own newspaper, I woke one morning to find that my right shoulder had frozen up on me. I could move it, but only with some effort and a fair amount of pain. I’m typically oblivious to the cause of such maladies, unless I can trace it to some mishap on the basketball court or an excessively ambitious weight-lifting session, but MLW very quickly suggested that it might be stress induced. We were each working 12-hour days, feverishly cranking out stories, cajoling our sales team to sell more ads, while trying to keep the creditors at bay. It was all pretty intense.
So I called upon a masseuse friend of ours who worked me over pretty good during the next few weeks. The shoulder gradually improved, but it never loosened up fully, I think, until we let our terminally ill newspaper empire slip into a coma and die a peaceful death. Since then, I’ve been obsessed with stress management, because I’m pretty much convinced that it’s the key to a happy, healthy life.
And I’ve not been dissuaded by a steady stream of studies showing the many benefits of tamping down your stress levels. Two of the most recent examples just crossed my desk this week. The first, from neuroscientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, suggests that mindfulness meditation can relieve chronic inflammation. The second, from researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, shows how stress reduction can inhibit prostate cancer tumor growth.
Bear with me a moment and I’ll tell you how these two studies are related. Inflammation is the primary culprit behind nearly every chronic disease, including cancer. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, create inflammation in the body. So it was no surprise to learn from the Wake Forest study that prostate cancer drugs were more effective in stress-free mice than in those that were overly tense. Meanwhile, dozens of earlier studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can relieve stress, so it follows that it would also cool inflammation in the body.
How it all actually works in the body is another question altogether, but the takeaway for this geezer (whose prostate ain’t what it used to be) is to keep up with my morning zazen sessions. And don’t launch another newspaper.