Stress is quite frighteningly the most frequently cited medical complaint in doctors surgeries and one concept that science today is starting to believe is a leading cause of medical conditions. From fibromyalgia, GI problems, cardiac complaints to nervous system disorders, cancer to mention but a few.
In the 21st century, the word stress brings many explanations and symptoms to the table, mainly all in the negative. It can create a myriad of sensations from the physical to the mental and the emotional. Some may be vague but others can truly incapacitate one. It can range from insomnia, anxiety, irritability. The inabilty to sit down, a harassed parent screaming at their screaming children, irritable bowel, fighting with the ‘stupid’ guy who pulled out in front of your car and not by mistake, or yelling at the computer or even the TV, negativity about all and everyone around you, headaches, a sense of frustration and even feeling low, no motivation,fatigue, immunity issues, allergies and just a sense of really you have just had enough. The stress can also lead to an over reliance or addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling and other habits that are termed ‘guilty pleasures’ but are harmful to your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Believe it or not though, stress is a necessary requirement for optimum living and our achievments. It propels one to study for exams, win a sports match, take care of your children while out shopping. But when over stretched it becomes a state of chronic stress creating some of the above listed.
Chronic stress is when the body has either had no time or unable to calm down sufficiently before moving onto the next event. This means that the constant stress affects our biological response to stress by triggering the adrenal glands which floods the body with adrenaline and cortisol. Theses are steroid hormones that overtime can have brutal effects on the body. The continuous release of cortisol can suppress the immune system, it can increase sugar levels, affect fertility levels, elevate blood pressure and can contribute to cardiac disease. It keeps the body in it’s ‘fight or flight’ mode resulting in constriction of blood flow to all parts of the body except to organs required to react to danger: the heart, lungs and the brain. In short it is the body’s response to danger and it’s survival instinct. And our everyday life should not be mimicking a survival response. That level of reaction is one that should be triggered off by surviving a meeting of a tiger for example.
In TCM all energies are affected by stress. The lung by worry, the spleen from overthinking, the liver from anger and frustration and the kidney by fear. However as an acupuncturist the first meridian that is called up when the word stress is mentioned is the Liver.There is a saying that”disharmony of the liver is the cause of 10,000 diseases” The health of the liver is hugely important as a meridian in coping and surviving stress. It’s free flow is essential for a calm, composed response in life, for a feeling of well being and important in cases of pain. It is necessary for optimum men and womens reproductive health too. It’s function in TCM is to promote the the smooth circulation of qi throughout the whole body. It’s inability to flow properly can cause havoc and its stagnation impedes the free flow of blood and other bodily fluids culminating in anything from pain anywhere in the body, vague or difficult, GI problems, headaches, depression, shoulder and neck pain, fatigue, to breast lumps, fibroids to mention a few. As it is also a meridian that when out of balance can affect the emotions, it can cause depression, anxiety, irritability and anger. However excessive anger and frustration conversely can create stagnation of qi thus leading to physical and more emotional mental problems. Add to that, our toxic environment coupled with bad diet and misuse of alcohol and drugs. Then we have a cocktail that totally diminishes the Liver creating a need for the kidney and heart axis to be involved in our daily reactions. This then puts huge pressure on our Vital energy also known as Kidney essence, which is essential for resistance and immunity and in Western terms we would now call it it adrenal fatigue. Include the heart qi, and its devitalization creates agitation which then disrupts the mind leading to anxiety,panic and even neurosis.
So here is how Acupuncture can help. It unblocks the qi allowing it to flow smoothly throughout the body. It helps calm the mind and essentially restores the body to a balanced state over time bringing about a clear relaxed pain free, rejuvenated sense of self. When unblocked qi starts to flow there can be an altering of the consciousness in many cases and change can occur which can be gentle or even bring life changing events. Couple the treatment with some mindful meditation techniques, dietary advice such as cut out all stimulants including sugar and for the middle aged onwards sleep at least 7 hours a night. Life will improve and reverse back to a life that is no longer on constant survival mode.
From a western point of view Acupuncture has been shown to trigger the brain to release endorphins and enkephalins, chemicals that have pain relieving properties. See (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/booster_shots/2009/08/acupuncture-boosts-effects-of-painkillers-whether-natural-or-prescription.html). It has also been shown that needle insertion can activate the brains regulation of neurotransmitters and hormones which affects many of the primary systems of the body including the nervous, endocrine and the immune system. At Georgetown University Medical Centre Acupuncture they have proven to significantly reduce levels of a protein linked to chronic stress called Neuropeptide Y(NPY), a peptide that is secreted by the sympathetic nervous system in humans. This is the system that is involved in the ‘Fight or Flight” mode. Although performed on rats they found that the 14 day experiment proved that acupuncture has a protective effect against stress. (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111219150915.htm)
In conclusion I will end with a quote this time from the Neijing Suwen1, lines 41-44 “In peaceful calm , void and emptiness. the authentic qi flows easily. essences and spirits are kept within. How could illness arise?”
Written by Suzanne Cafferky