Stress and TCM
April 23, 2020
Throughout our lives, all of us have experienced some degree of stress, which is a natural reaction of our organisms to real or perceived threats. There are various signs and symptoms of stress, both physical and mental, affecting us to a different degree. In acute stress situation our body and mind quickly enter into a fight/flight mode, meant to protect us from immediate danger. Our main stress hormones - adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine - work in unison to raise our blood pressure, increase the heartbeat and tense our muscles, so we can either fight away a source of stress or quickly run to safety. Once out of immediate danger, our body and mind are meant to relax and return to the normal balanced state. The difficulty arises when this hyper-alert state lasts for a long time and becomes chronic, manifesting as “strange sensations” in a particular area of the body, mood swings, feeling low, frustrated, tired or lethargic, having tight muscles, dull skin, unexplained hair loss or disturbed sleep. For example, too much cortisol over prolonged period can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure and sugar, decrease libido, produce acne, contribute to obesity and more.
Stress is a common complaint mentioned by acupuncture patients, with a wide variety of possible associated symptoms, e.g. anxiety, back pain, chronic pain, depression, headache, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, menopausal symptoms, migraines, premenstrual syndrome and urinary incontinence.
Acupuncture can help stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of “happy” hormones called endorphins, thus lowering the threshold of pain and allowing our body to switch from living in fight or flight mode to rest and digest mode (sympathetic nervous system versus parasympathetic nervous system). The resulting changes influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, promoting physical and emotional well-being.
The acupuncture treatments aimed at stress reduction are very gentle and relaxing. They soothe our nervous system, rebalancing the stress response and positively affecting our heart rate variability (HRV). Special acupuncture protocols exist for both obvious and hidden sources of stress and any associated symptoms.
While helping with stress, Chinese medicine concentrates on supporting the following systems:
1) Spirit, called Shen in TCM and housed by the heart. Shen is responsible for our moods, mental and emotional equilibrium and our sleep.
2) Kidneys, including the adrenal glands. Prolonged stress can deplete our kidney energy, causing excessive worry, anxiety, dull lower back or knee pain.
3) Rooting and nourishing our Yin energy. Calm, cooling and nourishing, a balanced Yin energy is essential to counterbalance our more active, fiery and fast energy of Yang, as overactive Yang can otherwise contribute to our hyper-alert state, making it more difficult to relax and recover.
Appropriate TCM treatments for stress-related conditions:
Acupressure - ✅
Acupuncture - ✅
Chinese herbs - ✅
Dietary/Lifestyle advice - ✅
Qi Gong - ✅
Tuina (meridian massage) - ✅
Number of treatments required - 5-10, depending on the severity of symptoms/duration of disease. Additional maintenance/top-up treatments may be advised.
Frequency of treatments - 1-2 times a week, depending on the severity of symptoms/duration of disease.