Many of my patients who come to see me for acupuncture remark on how relaxed they feel after their treatments. I like to call it your acupuncture zen. The cumulative effect of regular acupuncture treatments and your acupuncture zen is to naturally undermine the mechanism of chronic stress and anxiety.
Our body’s response to acute stress involves a constriction of blood flow to all parts of the body that are non-essential, an increase in heart rate and respiration, the secretion of the stress hormones, cortisol and epinephrine by the endocrine system, and a sharpening of our mental acuity. We’re on guard to protect ourselves from threat. The long term effects of stress, however, can be much more systemically damaging because our bodies become physically exhausted by repetitive stimulation to our fight or flight mechanisms. High blood pressure, fatigue, chronic headaches, weight gain, shoulder tension, heart palpitations, digestive disorders, and insomnia are all side effects of chronic stress and anxiety.
In a recent study for the Journal of Endocrinology, acupuncture is shown to normalize serum cortisol levels in rats exposed to chronic stress. “The animals that were only treated to the cold-stress showed higher levels of […] stress hormones after their exposure…those that were pre-treated with acupuncture showed no such spike in these hormones. In fact, their CRH levels were similar to those of the controls who hadn’t been exposed to the ice bath at all.” This means that acupuncture helps to normalize stress before it has a chance to get out of control, and I’ve often heard patients say that they are able to handle stressful situations better after I’ve seen them over a period of time.
What Does this Mean in TCM?
In Chinese medicine, while we always look at individuals from a whole body prospective, we often look to the liver to see what’s going on when someone presents with chronic stress or anxiety. The liver is in charge of the smooth flow of qi throughout the body. When our liver is constricted, our qi is stagnated, causing us to feel constricted – think tight shoulders, headaches, digestive upset, inconsistent menstrual cycles, pain, and irritability. With acupuncture, we unblock the qi allowing it to flow more smoothly, which in turn soothes the Liver and addresses all of those constricting symptoms. Sometimes subtly, sometimes significantly, but always naturally allowing the body to take care of itself by stimulating its own healing mechanisms. Anyone who suffers from these conditions knows that you can go from normal to turmoil in matter of minutes due to the sudden imbalance of the fight or flight mechanism triggered by stressful situations, and with acupuncture treatments you are better equipped to manage these situations!
One of my favorite tools for stress and anxiety is EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique. Basically it’s the process of tapping on a sequence of acupuncture points, which then activates those points and has a really nice calming effect. You may look a little funny doing it, but I love it for any time I’m overly stressed or when I can’t sleep. Click the link above to watch a video on how to do it. Who doesn’t want to do a little self-acupuncture?