At the beginning of each treatment, I ask my patients to evaluate their stress level from 1-10. This simple question and the mere need to acknowledge and quantify their stress frequently creates an emotional reaction. At the beginning I found this surprising but it actually is not at all. About 20% of adults and 25% of adolescents in the US suffer from anxiety and most other individuals experience different levels of significant stress. Furthermore, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) teaches us that emotional stress is in many cases the root cause or has a significant impact on physical symptoms too. Indeed, among the patients who walk through my clinic’s door seeking help for physical complaints, the reaction to this question is at least as strong as in those who come concerned with emotional symptoms.
Anxiety & Stress Mechanism
The autonomous nervous system (ANS) is a part of the nervous system that, with rare exceptions, we cannot consciously control. Breathing, heart rate and intestine mobility are examples of actions the ANS regulates without us having to think about it. The sympathetic nervous system is an important part of the ANS, which fires up when we face danger or need to spring into action (the “fight of fight reaction”). It works in concert with secretion of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol from our adrenal glands and leads to multiple effects including increased sweating, increase in heart rate and blood pressure and dilatation of the pupils.
Even in the modern world, devoid of Sabre-tooth tigers chasing us, bursts of sympathetic nervous activity are absolutely necessary for our everyday life. In some cases, however, the sympathetic nervous system gets “stuck” in a persistent baseline stimulation state. This can happen because of genetic factors, negative life experiences or difficult childhood trauma. Most frequently, though, it is the result of day-to-day issues such as work/financial worries or our inability to cope with others’ (or our own) expectations.
When such baseline stimulation states become chronic, a variety of symptoms, both emotional and physical, may emerge. Insomnia, abdominal pain, diarrhea, palpitations, headache, fatigue and weight gain are frequent examples of such symptoms.
So, What Can Be Done About It?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a holistic medical approach and as such binds our emotions, mental and spiritual state to our physical condition and its manifestations.
One of the key techniques used in Chinese medicine to manage stress and anxiety is acupuncture. Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points in the body, known as acupuncture points. This technique is believed to stimulate the flow of energy, or Qi (pronounced “chee”), a concept in traditional Chinese medicine that refers to the vital energy or life force that flows throughout the body, promoting healing and restoring balance. The Qi flows through meridians (or pathways) that interconnect more than 2000 acupuncture points.
This network of points and meridians creates innumerable variations for personalized treatment. In order to choose which combination is best for the individual patient, I start with a thorough intake process aimed at understanding not only the details of the patient’s symptoms but also at identifying the root cause and factors that exacerbate or mitigate these symptoms. Not surprisingly, stress is frequently involved.
……So, what was your stress level today?