Acupuncture & Stress
Posted on Aug 2, 2013 8:17 AM EDT
What stress is (and isn’t)
Consider a traffic jam in the morning rush hour. It is enough to send a man in the next car over into a small frenzy as he tenses up his muscles and his blood pressure spikes. You, however, might be the kind of person who in the same situation can take a deep breath, tune into your favorite radio station, and calmly wait it out. What’s the difference in these two reactions to the same stressor? While whether or not traffic is stressful may be debatable, some things (divorce, illness, violence) unquestionably cause stress. (In fact, psychologists Holmes and Rahe
have created a scale that ranks common stressors.) Yet stress itself has more to do with how you cope with that stressor than what that stressor is. Stress is your body and mind’s response to what is happening around you.
What stress does to the body
From a TCM perspective, chronic stress often means that yang energy (associated with energy, stress, and constriction) and yin energy (associated with calmness, quiet strength, and openness) are out of balance. Often yin energy is depleted. Chronic stress can manifest itself in the meridians as liver qi stagnation. There are several acupuncture points on the body useful for unblocking the flow of qi and releasing stress buildup. Additionally, acupuncture has the effect of reducing stress markers in the body. In some studies, acupuncture has been shown to reduce cortisol levels in people suffering from chronic disease. In biomedical terms, there is an interesting parallel to the TCM theory. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) can be thought of as having both yin and yang components: the parasympathetic and the sympathetic branches, respectively. Under stress, yang energy dominates as the sympathetic nervous system takes over, shunting blood flow to muscles, constricting blood vessels, and raising heart rate. Acupuncture shifts the ANS activation into the parasympathetic mode, which has more yin characteristics. It is the component more active in times of rest, increasing blood flow to digestive organs, dilating blood vessels, and decreasing heart rate.
How you can eliminate stress
You probably cannot eliminate all stressors in your life, but you can learn to recognize lingering symptoms of stress and take the steps to cope, getting your body back to normal. There are countless ways to relieve chronic stress with different approaches working for different individuals. You might find taking long jog outdoors the perfect way to de-stress, or you might feel better after meditating in a quiet room. Many patients find acupuncture the perfect way to help manage stress. Those who get acupuncture regularly know that a session can leave you feeling deeply relaxed in both body and mind.
Acupuncture won’t eliminate the stress from your life; it will enable your body reset to a healthier state. There is some evidence that acupuncture used with guided imagery and meditation is a very effective combination for stress-linked disease.
The acupuncture reduces stress on the body, while meditation takes a top-down approach by starting with the mind. Both can work subtly at first, especially when dealing with chronic symptoms, but if you stick with it for several sessions, you’ll feel your stress melt away.