Acupuncture and Stress
We all are exposed to stressful situations in our lives. If we are healthy, the stress is short lived and not too severe, we can usually recover without developing any major symptoms. However, when the stress is extreme, or if it lasts a long time, our emotional health and ultimately, our physical health begin to suffer.
Some common stress related illnesses are: irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, depression, irritability, insomnia, hypertension, stroke, myocardial infarction, migraine, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and even auto-immune diseases.
In ancient times, our reaction to stress (“fight or flight”,) enabled us to run or defend ourselves during real threats such an animal attack. In modern times our stressors are much different. Working on a computer all day, cell phones, a stressful job, traffic, being overweight or watching the nightly news is more frequent and more consistent than our ancestors experienced. As a result we find ourselves in a constant state of “fight or flight”…what we call stress. The body’s response to stress is to elevate insulin and cortisol levels, increase blood pressure, shut down the digestive system and suppress the immune system.
Even if the stressors are no longer present, the body continues to keep the stress response active. This can deplete our kidneys, and adrenal glands and decrease our white blood cells, which defend out body against disease. In order to reduce stress we must eliminate as much as we can through lifestyle changes (nutrition, exercise, relaxation techniques) and treating the physical body in order to release the emotions. This can help to reprogram the body’s response to stress.
How can acupuncture help?
Typically when we get stressed we tense up. This tightening causes our body’s energy (Qi) to get stuck. Qi enables our food to digest, our legs to move and our lungs to fill with air. Think about how your body responds when you are under stress perhaps you find it hard to breath, or swallow, maybe your stomach aches or your ears ring. Stress, acts like a traffic jam, blocking the free flow of energy in the body. Many people who are very stressed suffer from upper back, shoulder and neck pain. This is because stress is causing tension in those areas, blocking the free flow of energy, causing pain, tightness, and often leading to headaches.
Acupuncture effectively treats disorders caused by stress, by unblocking stuck Qi, allowing it to flow properly throughout the body. We feel more relaxed and can sleep better at night. Our food is digested smoothly and moves through the bowels properly. As our tension is relieved, so are our symptoms. Since we are more relaxed our temper becomes more even and we are less reactive. Acupuncture also releases stress reducing, natural pain-killing, chemicals in the brain, called endorphins.1 In addition, acupuncture improves circulation of blood throughout the body, which brings oxygen to the tissues and clears out cortisol and other waste chemicals. The calming nature of acupuncture also decreases heart rate, lowers blood pressure and relaxes the muscles
Ways you can deal with stress:
I work very closely with my patients teaching them many ways that they can reduce their stress between treatments. Walking, deep breathing or meditation, eating a healthy diet, shortening your to-do list and learning to ask for help are all good ways to reduce your stress. Call me to set up a consultation and see if acupuncture treatment might help to reduce your stress related symptoms.
1. Acupuncture and endorphins. Neurosci Lett. 2004 May 6;361(1-3):258-61.