Chronic stress and its effects are one of the biggest causes of disease in our modern times. The good news is that acupuncture and oriental medicine have been helping stress and the origins of the stress response for thousands of years. Some of these effects have recently been corroborated in studies conducted at Georgetown University. |
Stress or “fight or flight” is a natural way we deal with periods of duress when we need a heightened response to get out of danger. Unfortunately in today’s world we often get stuck responding to everything we have to get done in this manner. In a sense we never come down from this heightened response. When stress happens our hypothalamus at the base of our brain triggers an alarm system which prompts the adrenal glands above our kidneys to secrete adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones signal our bodies to increase heart rate and breathing, release sugar into the bloodstream to increase energy, and increase our brains ability to use sugar which heightening certain brain functions. Cortisol also decreases non vital body responses such as digestion, the reproductive system and growth. Further it alters immune response and mood. In a perfect world this stops when the perceived threat ends, but in today’s world we often stay in this over stimulated state for long periods of time. This taxes the body and mind making more and more difficult to come down to a normal response to the world. Over time with our minds at a heightened state and our bodies on overdrive we begin to see the beginnings of imbalance and chronic disease set in. A chronically stressed brain can bring about anxiety, irritability, insomnia etc. With our bodies on overdrive we can see high blood pressure, heart disease, poor digestion, muscle tension, chronic pain, breathing issues, hyper immune responses etc. We now know that our nervous systems and brains can be habituated to certain responses hence us staying in fight or flight. But we can also retrain our bodies, minds and nervous systems to react to stress in a less destructive manner. Amongst the things that can help are acupuncture and herbal medicine.
Oriental medicine views these prolonged stress responses as creating an imbalance and disruptions that when not addressed can make it harder to come back down to a normal state and lets the disruptions get deeper into the system leading to disease. In oriental medicine the liver and liver meridian plays a primary part in regulating the system overall. It is one of the first responders to stress although other meridians and organs often play a role. The liver meridian is viewed as having an overall regulatory function on the adrenal glands and thus the secretion of stress hormones. So an acupuncture session for stress will almost always try to balance out the liver and help it relax. Treatments consist of affecting specific complaints like poor digestion, insomnia, tense muscles and pain as well as deeply balancing and harmonizing the system and meridians to correct the underlying source of the problem. One of the most amazing things about acupuncture is its ability to deeply relax the mind and body. Patients will often leave a treatment feeling profoundly relaxed, rested and revitalized. And with consistent work this can change our overall reaction to stress and how we engage in the world. The complex herbal formulas that oriental medicine uses are another powerful arsenal in affecting the stress on our bodies and our response to it. The formulas address the symptoms that we experience as well as the underlying imbalances that have set in. They seek to calm our minds, clear any excess response such as a mind that will not turn off or blood pressure that will not come down, as well as tonify any deficiencies that have set in such as poor digestion, fatigue, anxiety etc. The combination of acupuncture and herbal medicine is a powerful tool in combating stress and the diseases it can lead to.
There are a few things we can do to combat stress on our own. One of which is finding time to breathy throughout the day especially breathing from our bellies. In this breathing exercise we are trying to get our bellies to expand on the inhale and let go on the exhale much like a ball inflating and deflating. The Abdomen is considered the center of energy in oriental medicine and a relaxed belly lets digestion work better and the liver relax. Furthermore about 80% of our serotonin is produced in the gut which is a hormone that amongst other things helps digestion, mood and the brain to relax. A more efficient gut allows more serotonin to be produced. Acupuncture is also very good at helping digestion and the abdomen to relax. Another thing you can do to combat stress and particularly the excess liver energy is to be physical and do creative activities. So go exercise and pick up a fun hobby. A third powerful tool to help us deal with our busy lives is to align our tasks with our value system. If grocery shopping is one more stress in the day, one thing that could help is to align your value of devotion to family or love of good food with your shopping. This then aligns your greater love with the task at hand. Once you examine your values you might find you are spending too much time on areas that actually are not of high priority to you. Letting these go might align you more and thus reduce your stress levels. Finally a well balanced diet with consistent eating habits can also greatly reduce stress. Often under stress we seek foods that provide quick energy such as sugar or heavy greasy foods and alcohol to self medicate. But in excess and in the long run they make us feel worse. Instead try sitting down and eating a warm cooked meal of whole grain, vegetables, and protein. It is very grounding and relaxing. Some foods which naturally relax us are oats, wheat, celery, sweat potatoes, bananas, soups, rice, chamomile tea, spinach, broccoli, berries, and avocados. Including more of these in our diets can make us feel better.
When confronted with busy, intense and potentially stressful situations we often act with a fight or flight response which over time can become chronic. This long-term heightened stress state can ultimately lead to many health risks. Fortunately there is a lot of help available including acupuncture and herbal medicine to retrain our minds, bodies and nervous systems. Thus we can find a more relaxed place of greater happiness, alignment, and health.
Eric Meleney L.Ac., MSOM, Dipl. NCCAOM is a practitioner of Oriental Medicine. He is owner of Crane Medicine and has been practicing in Boulder, CO. since 2001. He can be reached at 720-560-1674. Or at www.ericmeleney.com.
Related Articles -
Acupuncture Oriental Medicine Boulder, CO Eric Meleney,