Physical and emotional stress is a fact of modern life. Natural disasters, war, and general unrest are painting an uncertain picture of the future, which can leave many people with undue stress. Although the American Psychological Association reports that 63 percent of Americans say they are taking action to reduce their stress levels, 43 percent suffer adverse health effects due to stress. Studies show that Chinese medicine, which includes acupuncture, massage, Tai Chi and Qigong, can significantly help reduce stress.
The body’s reaction to stress is meant to protect us. Our body adjusts to its surroundings to maintain homeostasis. Our natural reactions to danger or challenge can be positive, but when we feel intense pressure or feel out of control these reactions become negative stress. The “fight or flight” response from the sympathetic nervous system occurs as we react to physical and mental changes in our equilibrium. In Chinese medical language, excessive emotional stimulation or suppression causes imbalance of qi, thereby injuring the body and producing disease.
A 2001 UCLA study showed that acupuncture can block sympathetic nerve activity. Twenty-two advanced heart failure patients had their blood pressure, heart rate and sympathetic nerve activity measured after subjection to four minutes of anxiety-producing sensations. Sympathetic nerve activity increased approximately 25 percent as a result of mental stress.
After the test, researchers divided the patients into three groups: authentic acupuncture delivered for 20 minutes at established acupuncture points, sham acupuncture delivered at non-acupuncture points, and no-needle acupuncture.
The mental stress test was then applied again with the same measurements taken at the end of the test. While patients in the sham acupuncture and no-needle groups experienced the same increases in heart rate, blood pressure and sympathetic nervous system activity, patients in the authentic acupuncture group showed no increase in sympathetic nervous system activity.
Studies also show that there is a link between stress and physical illness. Increased blood pressure and cortisol levels, as well as lowered immune system function, result when stress begins to affect the body. Symptoms can worsen to become depression, fatigue, tension headaches, stomachaches, hypertension, migraines, ulcers, heart attacks, or colitis. For those who harbor anxiety, the stress response does not turn off and can lead to more serious health problems such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes or thyroid dysfunction. Following trauma, it can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder, which requires professional treatment.
Chinese acupuncture and massage, as well as Tai Chi and Qigong exercises, can alleviate stress symptoms by releasing endorphins, the body’s own natural painkillers, and improving the circulation of blood and lymphatic fluids, which brings fresh oxygen to body tissues. This increased oxygen flow eliminates waste products from inside the body and enhances recovery from diseases. Chinese medicine also decreases the stress hormone cortisol, lowers blood pressure, reduces heart rate, and relaxes muscle tissue. Tai Chi and Qigong exercise teaches stress management technique. Learning stress management technique is an important aspect of keeping future stressors at bay.
Each person may exhibit a different stress symptom depending on individual temperament. A stress symptom can manifest physically, mentally or emotionally. It is important to monitor for a stress symptom so you can manage stress levels as soon as possible.
A physical symptom of stress such as tight muscles and body pain, fatigue or headache is tempting to self-medicate. Trying to fix a physical symptom of stress with caffeine or pain medication merely masks the problem, which inhibits long-term healing. People who suffer a physical symptom of stress should seek acupuncture and massage, which have high success rates at treating physical and emotional stress symptoms. Mental stress symptoms include poor concentration, fuzzy perception and negative self-talk. Emotional symptoms include irritability, nervousness, moodiness or hostility. Along with a healthy diet and exercise, any stress symptom can be eliminated.
Once treatment begins to solve the problems of stress by bringing the self into balance and encouraging stress management technique, these symptoms will diminish remarkably. Chinese medicine has been treating problems at their core for thousands of years, helping people to maintain a tranquil state of health and lives of minimal stress.