Stress has become an accepted part of everyday life for most people. We are all looking for ways to reduce our stress levels and sleep better. Acupuncture provides a very powerful treatment for both stress and insomnia or sleeplessness. Learning how to manage stress and helping our body balance the response to stress is important to keeping us healthy.
Stress can be anything the brain perceives as being stressful, which includes any input that comes in through our sensory nervous system, which is our ears, eyes, nose, touch and taste. Any emotional experiences we have and any changes in our physiology all go through the hypothalamus in the brain which then sets off stress signals. The stress response has many effects on the body.
Things that the body perceives as stressful are:
- Loud noises
- Being too hot or too cold
- Exposure to toxins such as heavy metals, chemicals or pesticides
- Low blood sugar or not eating
- Stress at work
- Viral load
- Bacterial or fungal/yeast infections
- Lack of sleep
Examples of life stresses are:
- The death of a loved one
- Loss of a job
- Increase in financial obligations
- Getting married
- Moving to a new home
- Chronic illness or injury – Pain
- Emotional problems (depression, anxiety, anger, grief, guilt, low self-esteem)
- Taking care of an elderly or sick family member
- Traumatic event like a car accident
These are some of the triggers that tell the brain the body is under stress. When the brain receives this message, the pituitary gland sends the hormone ACTH to the adrenal glands which respond by producing cortisol, the stress hormone. Sometimes the stress comes from inside of us. You can add to your stress just by worrying about things.
The traditional Chinese medicine approach is to focus on restoring the balance of energy in the body. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are combined to treat stress; dietary recommendations and exercise is helpful as well.
What is Cortisol? Cortisol is the major stress hormone and is produced by the adrenals, little glands that sit on top of the kidney. The adrenal glands produce over 100 different hormones, and cortisol is one of the most predominant. The adrenal glands also produce the hormone epinephrine. It is responsible for the racing heart, palpitations and sweaty palms commonly associated with stress.
We have all experienced stress reactions. For example, you are driving down the road and you almost get in an accident. Your heart starts racing, your palms get sweaty, you have a sinking feeling in your stomach – these symptoms are all caused by the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine.
There is both acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress is characterized in the classic “being chased by a bear” scenario. In that situation, you need to have enough adrenal hormones to run fast and escape the bear. The problem is that most of our stress is chronic and occurs repeatedly while we are sitting still, not while being “chased by a bear”. Cortisol’s main function is to put sugar or glucose in the blood so we have the energy to run away from the bear but, when we are just sitting, we do not burn up that glucose and it wreaks havoc on our bodies.
The damage that cortisol and other stress hormones cause are many, here are some of the most common:
- Abdominal weight gain – all that glucose gets deposited as fat on the belly
- Digestive issues – constipation, gas, bloating
- Elimination of toxins
- Hormone imbalances
- Muscle aches
Stress is often constant and we often don’t have time to recover from one stressor before the next stressful thing happens. Acupuncture can help manage stress in the body.
In Chinese medical theory, strong emotions like stress interrupt the body’s energy from flowing smoothly. When these emotions are present for long periods of time they create a blockage in the body’s system, also creating an energetic blockage. Acupuncture increases the circulation of blood and oxygenates the tissues, while cycling out cortisol and releasing natural pain-killers called endorphins. Other benefits of acupuncture include decreasing the heart rate, relaxing the muscles to help the body feel less stressed and lowering the blood pressure.
In addition, acupuncture can treat insomnia and boost the immune system, which are some of the ways in which stress can affect the body.
Contact us at Austin Quan Yin and schedule an appointment to restore your body’s balance and reduce stress!
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