What Exactly is Stress?
Stress is a psychological and physiological response to events that upset our personal balance in some way. When faced with a threat, whether to our physical safety or emotional equilibrium, the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” response. This “fight-or-flight” stress response involves a cascade of biological changes that prepare us for emergency action. When danger is sensed, a small part of the brain called the hypothalamus sets off a chemical alarm. The sympathetic nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol. These stress hormones race through the bloodstream, readying us to either flee the scene or battle it out. However, extended or repeated activation of the stress response takes a heavy toll on the body.
How Does Stress Affect Our Health?
Prolonged exposure to stress increases your risk of everything from heart disease, obesity, and infection to anxiety, depression, and memory problems. Additionally, the digestive and reproductive systems slow down, growth hormones are switched off, and the immune response is inhibited. Recent research suggests that 60-90% of illness is stress-related.
Medical Conditions Caused or Exacerbated by Stress:
- Chronic pain
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Autoimmune diseases
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Skin problems
- Eating Disorders
- Substance Abuse
Traditional Chinese Medical Treatment for Stress Management
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) usually focuses on the liver, spleen, and kidney organ systems when treating stress and its physical and/or emotional manifestations. In Eastern Medical Theory, stress causes a blockage of Qi (pronounced Chee- energy) which can lead to physical or emotional pain as well as many other medical conditions.
This blockage of Qi initially impacts the liver organ system and irritability, frustration, anger, depression, hormonal disorders, and blood pressure issues can arise. However, over time the spleen and kidney organ systems become taxed and fatigue, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, etc… may develop. While practitioners may not be able to change the initial cause of the stress, the appropriate combination of acupuncture, herbal therapy and stress management counseling can be extremely therapeutic at relieving these conditions as well as making the body better equipped to handle stress.
Additionally, from a Western Medical perspective, acupuncture relieves stress through its endorphin-producing benefits. Endorphins are “feel-good” chemicals that flood the body in response to a biochemical chain of events triggered by the body’s perception of an inserted acupuncture needle. Increased endorphins are linked to increased levels of serotonin as well as a decrease in cortisol levels (one of the key stress hormones that causes illness).