Stress impacts our mental and physical in a huge way, whether it is caused by work, money, relationships, or family. It can generate a wide range of health problems over the course of time if it is not properly managed. The good news is that there is acupuncture, a safe, effective, and natural way to manage stress levels and balance our body and mind.
What is Stress?
A perfectly healthy physiological response to the pressures of life, stress is felt by both humans and animals alike to help them adapt and survive in the world effectively. The dangers inherent in living in the world caused this survival mechanism to evolve where it has helped both humans and animals to survive and even thrive. Stress is also known as the “fight or flight” reaction giving you a chance to escape or survive dangers through the sudden alterations of the various systems of your body including changes to the amount of your hormones, mental awareness, respiration, and heart beat. Stress is oftentimes a good and healthy response to situations in the modern world giving you the ability to adapt to changes and perform and work better.
The fight or flight reaction is activated in the nervous system, when necessary and only in dangerous or challenging situations. But when pressure and problems continue or exacerbate, this reaction keeps on being activated. The stress response is meant to be short and temporary but if it is constantly triggered or remains for an extended amount of time, then it may lead to negative consequences to your health.
Telltale indications of long-term (chronic) stress include tense shoulders, feeling of being overwhelmed by life, anxiety, digestive problems, depression, fatigue, and insomnia. This longstanding stress can do damage to your health as time goes on. It eats up the natural stockpiles of your vitality and energy. Western medicine has been able to observe what stress can do to health over the long-term; the body weakens making it prone to illnesses and disease as it suppresses your immune system and weakens your ability to repel sickness.
What is Acupuncture?
China has been using acupuncture for a wide range of health conditions for over 5,000 years. It is a very important part of a collection of Chinese healing arts known as traditional Chinese medicine or TCM. A traditional acupuncture procedure uses thin sterile needles pricked into points on the body known as acupoints in order to restore free flow of Qi or vital energy or modify its flow. Practitioners of TCM believe that life or vital energy flows in our providing each part of the body with much needed Qi. Qi travels throughout our body via energy channels known as meridians. The meridians are located just underneath the surface of the skin where acupoints are located. When a needle is inserted into an acupoint, it stimulates the meridian underneath the point. This causes a series of nervous system and brain responses that result in the treatment of a condition. Each meridian is connected to one or more internal organ systems. The internal organs system’s function can be modified through these needles affecting the mental and/or physical state of health of the patient.
Acupuncture Therapy for the Relief of Stress
Some types of stress management are needed to deal with the challenges of modern life. To this, acupuncture combined with adjustments to your lifestyle can be a valuable tool to alleviate stress and enjoy a more peaceful and harmonious life.
A person who is constantly bombarded by stress will eventually suffer from mental or physical conditions due to a development of blockage in the flow of his/her Qi. The blockage slows down energy flow that often leads to a number of mental and/or physical symptoms like anger, pain, depression, headaches, cold limbs, tight muscles and tendons, and IBS or irritable bowel syndrome. When it comes to stress, stagnation of Liver Qi, is the most commonly diagnosed condition as it is the function of the Liver to make the flow of Qi as smooth as possible.
Stress treatment using acupuncture focuses on the treatment of Liver Qi Stagnation. Acupuncture helps restore the normal circulation of stagnant energy by using among others, a procedure known as the “Four Gates.” This technique uses the acupuncture points Liver 3 (Li 3) and Large Intestine 4 (LI 4) which are located on the feet and hands, respectively. Extra acupoints treated to augment the effectiveness of the treatment are located on the ears and head. During an acupuncture treatment procedure for stress, patients often fall asleep due to the relaxing effects of the treatment that normally lasts 30 to 60 minutes.
TCM treatment for stress may combine Chinese herbs and acupuncture. This will depend on the needs of the patient and the style of the acupuncturist/practitioner. Herbal prescriptions can be taken each day in between acupuncture sessions to boost the treatment’s effectiveness.
Balancing Mind and Body
Mainly a mental response to what you perceive of your situation, stress can be amplified when you constantly think of the challenges you face in life. In this regard, it would not be surprising if you get hung about things that in reality are nothing to worry about. But, regardless if your stress is due to a figment of your vivid imagination or a real significant problem, it can be easily alleviated by acupuncture. Acupuncture unwinds you in a profound way enabling you to release your stress.
The body is restored to a state of normal balance as acupuncture helps your mind to calm down and relax. The body returns to a more balanced state. As a result, your organ systems begin to optimally function once more, which in turn, enables you to deal with stress in a more effective way. One important body function that easily gets disrupted by stress is digestion. This is the reason why when we’re in severe stress, we tend to suffer from diarrhea, vomiting, or IBS. Acupuncture helps calm the digestive system and other systems of the body making you stronger and more capable of handling any future stressful situations.
Compared to pharmaceutical medications, acupuncture is a much preferred safe and natural alternative to treat severe and chronic stress. For those who deal with stress by taking sleeping pills, tranquilizers, or anti-depressants, you need to consider the safer treatment of acupuncture to get you off these harmful medications, of course, under the recommendation of your doctor. You may even include Chinese herbs to go with your acupuncture treatment or use the herbs as a standalone treatment if you have an aversion to needles.
Learn to Relax
Chances are that you have lost touch with a natural state of relaxation if you have been under severe stress for a long time. You can reconnect with this harmonious state once more with acupuncture as it relieves conditions associated with stress. Acupuncture can also give you a new appreciation and perspective of life that enables you to mature as a person and helps you develop a positive attitude toward stress. Doing deep breathing exercises and meditation everyday can help you return to a state of relaxation and give you better control over your mind’s reactions to stress. Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and Yoga are very good ways to discipline your mind and body and help you develop movements that calm your mind.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a licensed acupuncture physician and the medical director of BodaHealth in Vancouver, BC.