Monday, November 15, 2010

Acupuncture for Stress

Everyone has stress. It is almost inevitable in this day and age. What matters is what happens to stress when it hits your body--do you roll with it or does it roll you?

From an evolutionary perspective, our physiological response to stress was for survival: adrenaline helped us escape from the attacking saber-toothed tiger. It was a short lived surge during the time of danger; when the danger passed, the body went back to baseline. These days, however, stress tends not to be a temporary thing, but a chronic condition. Many of us have periods of really high stress followed by periods of only moderately high stress. This constant flow of adrenaline and cortisol in the body can lead to chronically tight muscles, headaches, migraines, depression or anxiety, high blood pressure, menstrual irregularities and pain, insomnia, fatigue or exhaustion, digestive upset and so much more. Then when we feed the stress with caffeine and sugar or sugar substitutes things only get worse. But what is happening in the body and why does stress cause all of this discomfort?

First a Western view.

The release of adrenaline and cortisol increases the heart rate and breathing. Blood is sent into the muscles and they tighten. Digestion and immunity are not necessary in times of danger so these functions are suppressed. The mind is awake and alert. Short term, all of this is fine, but long term, not so much. Long term your alert mind keeps you from sleeping, your impaired immunity allows you to get sick, your tight muscles hurt. This doesn't paint a pretty picture.

Now an Eastern view.

According to Chinese medicine, the Liver has many functions. The function we will discuss here is its ability to move the Qi. There is a famous saying in Chinese medicine: "When there is free flow, there is no pain; when there pain there is no free flow." The free flow of Qi leads to a happily balanced and symptom-free body and mind. Stress (as well as anger, frustration and unfulfilled desires) constricts the Liver . When the Liver is constricted it cannot function properly and therefore can't move the Qi freely through all of the energy channels. When the energy is blocked, or "stagnated," you see symptoms like the ones listed above. Stress therefore blocks the free flow of Qi in the body, and leads to all sorts of physical, mental and emotional discomfort.

Here is where you say "but I can't change the stress in my life!" Stressors in your life might not change, but how you handle them can. Take back your control, don't allow stress to control you.

One method of controlling stress is acupuncture. Acupuncture uses tiny hair-fine needles to unblock the flow of Qi and improve circulation in your body. Acupuncture calms the nervous system, improves blood flow, reduces inflammation, improves digestion and strengthens your immune system--all functions that are impaired by stress. By strengthening the Liver (as well as the Kidneys-- they support the Liver) and releasing its constriction, stress no longer has a hold on you; your symptoms improve or go away completely and you feel better. When you support that with healthy eating, exercise and rest you will be on your way to chronic health!

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