Stress Management

How to manage stress with acupuncture

Whether physical or mental, we all experience stress to varying degrees. Stress plays a huge role in our everyday health and  can aggravate health conditions that we already have. Routine, chronic stress can in the long run lead to serious physical and mental health consequences if not managed properly. If you suffer from a health condition, whether it is chronic pain, migraines, insomnia, digestive issues, high blood pressure, poor memory, or even difficulty losing weight, it is likely that stress plays a role in your symptoms. Relieving stress is a very important factor in managing your condition and resolving your symptoms. 

For thousands of years Chinese Medicine has considered stress to be a major contributing factor to chronic health conditions, and has developed effective ways of treating the negative effects stress has on the body. No matter what condition we are treating, acupuncture works to promote healing by bringing your body back to its calm, relaxed state of healthy functioning.

1. Acupuncture influences the body’s fight-or-flight response, lowering blood pressure, and heart rate and regulating hormones and endorphins to bring you back to a state of relaxation.

2. Acupuncture reduces levels of our stress hormones like cortisol and boosts endorphins, our body’s natural pain relievers and mood enhancers.

3. Acupuncture is very effective in improving sleep and resolving insomnia, including problems falling asleep because of worry or overthinking, problems staying asleep and restless sleep.

4. Acupuncture has a balancing effect on our emotions so that we are better able to cope with everyday stressors without getting frustrated, angry, or “stressed out”.

5. Acupuncture can break the cycle of constant worrying and bring you to a more relaxed state. This makes it very effective for treating chronic anxiety and depression.

6. Acupuncture can help to calm digestive symptoms and strengthen and correct our digestive system, resolving conditions like IBS, constipation, diarrhea and acid reflux.

7. Acupuncture helps your nervous system to remain in a more relaxed state, and you can expect to feel in better moods, have improved sleep, and better digestion.

8. Acupuncture reduces inflammation in the body and relieve chronic pain conditions like arthritis, that can be aggravated by chronic stress

Anxiety/Depression

Anxiety

With stress so common in our lives today, more and more people are suffering from anxiety. Ongoing anxiety can interfere with day-to-day activities and relationships and when this happens, it may be diagnosed as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety can develop from a combination of stress, personality, gender, and life events such as an illness or past troubles. Those suffering from generalized anxiety experience symptoms such as constant over-thinking and worrying, restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, and fatigue. 

Chronic anxiety can also lead to other health problems, such as headaches, insomnia, digestive problems, or teeth grinding. Of course, all of us worry from time to time about finances, family, health, and future, but it becomes a problem for us when we are thinking and worrying constantly or when it prevents us from relaxing or unwinding from our daily stresses.

A big difference between Chinese medicine and Western medicine is the way in which disease is viewed- Chinese medicine sees health and disease as a continuum. Anxiety is seen as an imbalance or excess of the emotion “worry”. Worry is a normal emotional state which enables concentration, memorization, and focus, however when worry gets out of balance it leads to constant thinking, brooding, worrying, and anxiety. 

Anxiety can be caused by our lifestyle, if we have too many stressors or too often, or we can be  prone to it due to a constitutional imbalance or weakness in the spleen, heart, lungs, or a combination of these organs.  Excessive worry causes our qi-energy to get stuck and not flow properly. This, in turn, can injure the organs, causing additional symptoms, depending on the organ(s) affected. 

By redirecting the body’s energy flow with acupuncture, we can help the body to correct internal imbalances and treat the cause of anxiety symptoms. Acupuncture also works towards emotional balance, so that we are better able to deal with daily stresses without falling into excessive worry. 

Acupuncture is also an excellent complement to therapy or counselling, helping to relieve the physical symptoms of anxiety and calm the emotions while a person works through the behavioural aspects of their anxiety. 


Depression

Depression is a medical illness that involves the mind and body, affecting how a person feels, thinks and behaves. It is characterized by low moods and a loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. Other symptoms may include preoccupation or over-thinking, irritability or frustration, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, poor concentration and memory, withdrawal from social situations, reduced sex drive, and insomnia, as well as fatigue, headaches, digestive problems, reduced appetite (or in some cases increased appetite), and an agitated or lethargic behaviour.

Although the causes are still not yet fully understood, a variety of factors are believed to be involved. These include biological differences (people with depression appear to have physical changes in their brains), the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, the body’s balance of hormones, genetics, early childhood trauma, and major life events such as the loss of a loved one or high stress. The most common treatments for depression are psychotherapy, anti-depressant medication, and electroconvulsive therapy, used only as a last resort.

Acupuncture is an excellent option for the treatment of depression, as it is very effective in both relieving the symptoms and in resolving the condition with continued treatments, and without negative side effects. Chinese medicine (TCM) takes a much different approach to depression and focuses much more on the overall functioning of the body and how the various organs and systems are working in relation to each other. According to TCM, there are different causes and mechanisms for depression in different people. For some people it has to do with mental-emotional causes such as continued stress, frustration or worry. Other factors can be either too much or too little exercise and activity. Or it may be due to other diseases in the body, or age or body type. In others it may be faulty diet or lifestyle factors.

For this reason, it is important to be committed to the healing process, to be patient with our body as it takes time to heal, and to expect some bumps along the way as we are faced with life’s stresses. Typically with acupuncture a series of treatments is needed, on a regular schedule over the course of a few months to achieve lasting results. While depression can be a disabling condition which adversely affects a person’s family, work or school life, sleeping and eating habits, and general health, there is hope that we can regain both our health and our happiness.

Insomnia

Having an occasional sleepless night because of stress or a broken heart is something we all know. Usually this condition improves after a couple of days and we don’t think of it anymore. 

A lot of people, however, are suffering from something called insomnia, not being able to fall asleep or constantly waking up at night. Not just one night, but every night. 

As a result they have to take medication, that can lead to addiction and sleeping is getting more and more difficult. These people become irritated during the day, are constantly over-fatigued and have a hard time concentrating. They can cause accidents in traffic and their performances in their work will suffer. Eventually this lack of sleep can make a person depressed, knowing that he or she is not able to keep-up with daily life.

How can we develop sleeplessness? Main causes of insomnia are the use of certain medication, high doses of coffee, nicotine, alcohol or drugs, severe pain, disturbance of night-and-day rhythm (jet-lag) and of course periods of stress, emotional instability and depression. Also certain foods can cause a person to have a restless night, like hot and spicy food or too much fat. 

Another important reason for sleeping well is a good bed and mattress. When our body is supported well during the night it is easier to relax, because there will be less strain on the ligaments and joint capsules and our muscles don’t have to interfere. 

It will be clear that a regular day/night rhythm and a good balance between healthy food, physical activity and relaxation is a must for a sound sleep. Try to stay away from medication as long as possible, because in the end it can create even more sleeping problems.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine insomnia can have several causes. Emotions like anxiety and worry will weaken the energy (Qi) of the Kidneys and Spleen. The Spleen is said to “govern the Blood”. Weak Spleen Qi will also make the Blood weak. Blood has a yin character and when yin is weak it cannot control the body during the night and so yang will be active and disturbs the sleep.

Again when yin Qi is weak it will also affect the yin of the Kidneys. When the Kidneys are not able to control the Heart, the Heart will overreact and Heart fire will rise (yang). This will automatically lead to insomnia, because at night yin needs to prevail.

Long term stress and emotional disturbances will have a negative effect on the yin Qi of the Liver. As a result the Liver fire will rise and cause insomnia. 

Finally, when there is a digestive problem, Spleen and Stomach are involved and can create damp-heat, which eventually can lead to insomnia.

Symptoms can be different: Deficiency of Spleen and Blood will create difficulty to fall asleep, palpitations, poor memory, listlessness etc. When Heart and Kidney are involved the patient will be impatient, irritable and dizzy and can have lower back pain together with insomnia.

Rising Liver fire causes irritability, dream-disturbed sleep, headache and a bitter taste in the mouth and finally with Stomach dysfunction there will be insomnia with fullness, abdominal distension and belching.

A proper TCM diagnose will point us in the right direction. With acupuncture we can tonify the Spleen and the Blood, control the Heart fire, strengthen the Kidney, balance the Liver and remove damp-heat.

Acupuncture uses the body’s own energy and increases the immune system. There is no need for medication with possible addiction and the patient will eventually heal him/herself using the strength that’s inside him/her.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern, starting in the fall and continuing through the winter, sapping energy and making a person feel moody. Symptoms can include depression, changes in appetite (in particular a craving for sweet or starchy foods), weight gain, decreased energy, fatigue, a tendency to oversleep, difficulty concentrating, irritability, avoidance of social situations, feelings of anxiety and despair, loss of interest in activities, and a heavy or leaden feeling in the arms and legs. These symptoms generally disappear when spring arrives. SAD may be caused by changes to the body’s circadian rhythms, a change in serotonin levels (which affect mood), and a change in melatonin levels (which affect our sleep patterns and moods).

It is important to be aware of our sensitivities to the seasons and to adjust our habits and lifestyle accordingly in order to be able to live an enjoyable and productive life year-round. There are many things that we can do to relieve SAD or winter blues, and the best approach seems to be combining the things that work for you.

People with SAD can benefit from spending some time outdoors every day, even for just a short duration and even in cloudy weather. Arranging the home or office for maximum sunlight such as keeping the curtains open, pruning back trees in the fall, and sitting near a window can help.  Exercise is also very effective for relieving SAD, and daily exercise has been shown to relieve the symptoms of mild depression. Exercising in the morning may also help to regulate our bodies’ melatonin levels. Light therapy is also a common treatment for SAD, and involves daily exposure to a special type of bright, artificial light.

Acupuncture is a very effective option for treating SAD. Depression, anxiety, SAD, and other mood disorders respond very well to acupuncture, as do symptoms such as insomnia, low energy, irritability, and concentration. Because of acupuncture’s stress-relieving and relaxing effects, people suffering from SAD will often feel immediate relief following treatment. 

Winter is a natural time for reflection and inactivity and we need take extra care to nurture ourselves at this time in order to maintain our health. Avoiding over-working and too much stress, increasing our exposure to light, monitoring our diet, sleep patterns and exercise levels are important for all of us.