Stress is defined as any demand on the body, mind and spirit to perform and is derived from the Latin word stringere, to draw tight.(1) The bodies stress response both enhances function, (either physical or mental), such as during endurance training or challenging mental activities, as well as inhibiting functions such as in chronic cases of adrenal exhaustion.
Physiologically when we’re stressed the adrenals secrete adrenaline as if we were preparing to fight tigers in the jungle. Our adrenals do not know the difference between the stress of facing a tiger and the stress of facing an irate boss, a bouncing checkbook, a sick child or partner, or rush-hour traffic. The body does know that when it feels pending stress, the nervous system sets in sympathetic, (fight or flight) mode inhibiting digestion, speeding up heart rate, thus pumping more blood throughout the body and giving the body extra resources to respond to whatever the stress might be. This very necessary response is only designed for short term use.
In a day in the life of an urban dweller, the likelihood of crossing paths with a tiger is slim to none. However, long work hours, long commute times, traffic, balancing check books, and caring for family exist in all our lives. Over time if the nervous system perceives constant stress the bodies adaptation response, i.e., the release adrenaline and cortisol become exhausted. Signs that arise include cognitive, emotional, physical or behavioral. Signs include poor judgment, excessive worrying, moodiness, irritability, agitation, inability to relax, feeling lonely, isolated or depressed. Aches and pains may arise and include diarrhea, constipation, nausea, dizziness, chest pain, rapid heart beat, eating too much or not enough, sleeping too much or not enough, procrastination, neglect of responsibilities, increased alcohol, nicotine, or drug consumption and nervous habits and neck pains.
So how do we counter our bodies natural response to stress so that we do not have to experience symptoms of distress?
The bodies natural relaxation mode, or parasympathetic mode, is the bodies natural balance to f’ight or flight’ mode. This is our ‘rest and digest’ mode and it is absolutely crucial for preventing long term stress related disease. Acupuncture, yoga, deep breathing, and meditation activate this mode. Additionally, eating a diet rich with whole fruits, vegetables and grains greatly helps our system to recover from stressful times. Over time the continued activation of our parasympathetic mode can break unhealthy cycles of stress related symptoms, and can actually increase the ability for humans to deal with the daily stress of life.
Acupuncture massages the nervous system, like hitting a re-set button to tell your body it no longer needs to be on constant alert. Sleep becomes more sound, and digestion more complete. The thresh hold for dealing with difficult situations rises and people feel like they are more balanced emotionally. After just your first treatment you should be able to feel that you have been brought back to a place of calm in yourself, and after 5-10 treatments patients notice dramatic differences in their ability to handle the stress of life gracefully.
In Chinese medicine strong emotions, of anger, rage, sadness, grief, worry frustration, and even joy can interrupt the flow of energy in the body, like a road block or a sprained ankle. We know that with a sprained ankle, you will need, rest, treatment and rehabilitation to recover. If we began to see our 5pm road rage as needing similar attention as our sprained ankle perhaps we would prevent long term stress due to unresolved emotional injuries.