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Living in the busy modern world today, people from all ages will experience a good amount of stress on a daily basis. The demands placed on our bodies and minds from work, school, relationships, and situations are most likely many and ongoing. Our bodies try to adapt as best as they can by switching on the “fight or flight” mode to remain alert and productive. Over time, however, the stress in our lives can impact our physical and mental health. With an elevation of the stress hormone, cortisol, blood pressure will increase and immune function will be suppressed. Anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue, headaches, and digestive problems will also start to develop.
At one time or another, all of us experience stress. These feelings are a healthy response to events in our lives that may feel beyond our control. When we are healthy and the stress is short-lived, we are usually able to recover without too much wear and tear to our overall health. However, when the stress is extreme, or if it lasts a long time, our emotional health and ultimately, our physical health begin to suffer.
Our bodies are hardwired to help us react to stressful events. At the first sign of a threat, whether real or perceived, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in and facilitates what is called the “fight or flight” response. Our heart rate increases, our pupils dilate, and our digestion temporarily shuts down, directing blood to our extremities, so that if need be, we can either fight what is threatening us, or turn and run if the threat is too formidable.
Unfortunately, the “fight or flight” response, which worked well in caveman days, does not serve us as well if the “threat” is a demanding boss, nasty co-worker or even a worrisome situation that is not being resolved. More often than not, the stress in our lives is long-term, and as a result, we find ourselves in a constant state of “fight or flight”, or stress. Over time, the constant state of stress takes its toll. Cortisol, the body’s stress hormone elevates, blood pressure increases, and our immune function is suppressed. Over time, these symptoms become worse and can develop into anxiety, depression, fatigue, digestive problems, and tension headaches.
Emotions from a Chinese Medical Perspective
In Chinese medicine, stress, anxiety, depression or any strong emotion interrupts the smooth flow of energy throughout the body. According to Chinese medical theory, energy flows through our body through a network of “roads”, almost like a highway system. Stress, anger, or any intense emotion acts like a traffic jam, blocking the free flow of energy in the body. For example, many people who are very stressed out complain of 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.
In a highway system, when there is road construction or an accident, traffic may be also backed up on other secondary roads that feed into or out of the affected area. This is true in the body, too. Stress may affect many other parts of the body, most notably digestion, the ability to sleep, pain conditions, and blood pressure. Stress can also aggravate an already troublesome health condition.
Through acupuncture, theses energy blockages can be addressed. Acupuncture points serve as the on and off ramps to the energy highway, and can help energy flow smoothly, and alleviate not only the symptoms of stress and anxiety, but the stress and anxiety itself.
From a Western viewpoint, acupuncture works to alleviate stress by releasing natural pain-killing chemicals in the brain, called endorphins. In addition, acupuncture improves circulation of blood throughout the body, which oxygenates the tissues and cycles out cortisol and other waste chemicals. The calming nature of acupuncture also decreases heart rate, lowers blood pressure and relaxes the muscles.
Medications for mood and emotional disorders are often addictive, with considerable side effects. Rather than relying on hypnotics, anti-anxiety medications, or anti-depressants, acupuncture can be used to calm the nervous system and clear obstructions in the muscles by facilitating the flow of oxygenated blood to the tissues. It helps to clear out the excess cortisol and other waste chemicals accumulated, while allowing energy to move freely throughout the body. Functional MRI studies also showed that acupuncture can affect the regulation of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which are two brain chemicals that help someone feel happy and good.
To learn more about how this natural approach may be able to help your emotional and mental health, contact us today for a consultation or possible treatments.
If you are interested in finding out more about your symptoms and what acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can do for you, contact us today.