Stress isn’t always bad. In fact, in small doses it can assist us in many ways and even drive us forward to achieve great things. However, when our body is under constant and consistent stress, it begins to take a toll on us mentally, physically and emotionally. We can begin to feel irritated and overwhelmed, feel tired all the time and have body aches and pains. This is a sign that your body is under stress and that you need to listen to your body, as constant stress can lead to heart disease and autoimmune problems.
What Is stress?
Stress is your body’s way of responding to a perceived danger or threat. It is the body’s way of protecting you. It is what we call the “fight or fright” response (stress response). It causes your body to release adrenaline which increases your heart rate and your blood pressure and pumps blood quickly around the body so that you are ready to either run from the perceived danger or slam on the brakes of car quickly. When our body’s stress response is working correctly, we have a quick flood of energy, adrenaline and a surge of power which can enable us to lift heavy objects, run extremely fast and avoid danger. However, when stress is consistently present, it begins to drain our body and affect our vital systems having a major impact on our health, moods, productively, relationships and our quality of life.
Fight-or-flight response: what happens in the body
When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which arouse the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed up your reaction time, and enhance your focus—preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.
The main symptoms of stress Include:
- easily upset
- very emotional (e.g. teary, irritable etc)
- vivid dreams and/or nightmares
- lack of energy
- loss of interest in activities
- headaches, stiff neck and shoulder
- increased memory loss and/or inability to focus
- altered bowel movements
- lower libido and/or impotence
- autoimmune diseases
- heart disease
- weight problems – weight loss/ gain
- skin conditions such as eczema, rashes, hives
- serious effects include suicide and violence towards self and others
STRESS FROM A TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE PERSPECTIVE:
Stress from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) viewpoint is seen as an emotional disorder which has a physical effect on the body and on the mental state. It causes an imbalance within the internal organs of the body, particularly within the heart and liver organs. When an imbalance occurs, the body is not able to handle stress.
Therefore, it is vital to bring your body back into balance and to learn how to balance our emotions and our physical stress, so that we do not deplete our heart and liver organs energy and we can maintain their health.
STRESS EFFECTS HEART AND LIVER HEALTH.
According to TCM, emotional issues are strongly associated with the internal organs of the body – namely the heart and the liver. These 2 organs work together to pump blood and “qi” around the body and to assist us with our emotions. The liver organs job is to freely circulate the “qi” around our body along with the heart whose job it is to pump the blood which circulates the “qi” within our meridians. Stress affects the smooth flow of qi and blood around our body and leads to some or all the above symptoms.
CAUSES OF STRESS
We generally think of anything that causes us stress to be negative, however, positive things in life can also cause us stress such as getting married, moving to a new house, moving countries, or getting a promotion. Negative stressors (anything that causes stress) can be a rocky relationship, a gruelling work schedule, children, single parenting, or being away from family or the death of a loved one.
Stress can be caused by external forces – workload, studying, moving to a new house, insecurity in your job or relationships, but can also be internal as well – such as over worrying, overthinking, being pessimistic, constantly berating yourself and/or being a perfectionist.
The internal dialogue creates stress within your body and from a TCM perspective – drains your life force the spleen and the kidneys and causes disharmony within your heart, which is where our shen or our “soul” is housed.
Ways to cope with stress:
- What is the cause of your stress – can you reduce the stress?
- Eat nourishing food – avoid processed food and eat small meals with protein, fat and carbohydrate. E.G 2 boiled eggs for breakfast.
- Listen to calming music – music has been proven to reduce our heart rate and reduce stress.
- Exercise – small bursts of intense exercise decreases cortisol in our body and helps us to assist to rebalance hormones. Thirty minutes a day is all that is needed and short high intensity busts of 3 mins a day assist to improve circulation and reduce stress, while increasing oxygen to the brain.
- Ask for help – chat to a friend or seek professional help from a physiologist or a counsellor.
- Re-arrange your schedule – can you ask work if you can work from home, or start later one day a week?
- Avoid caffeine – drink herbal tea instead – rose tea, hibiscus tea, green tea, peppermint tea, chrysanthemum tea.
- Get a massage – massage is highly beneficial to reduce stress and ease tired and sore muscles.
- Mediate – or do a form of mediation such as yin yoga, Tai Chi, Qi gong.
- Use mindfulness – encourage your self and give yourself positive affirmations and realistic goals – break goals down into smaller steps to reduce the feeling of overwhelm.
- Write down your worries and concerns, release it from your head.
- Breathe – practice deep breathes to reset your body. Breathe in for 4 through your nose and out for 6 through your mouth.
- Swim – swimming is ideal to assist with stress; you use every muscle in your body and it can be calming.
- Take a mulit B vitamin and magnesium. B vitamins help to give us energy when stressed and magnesium is used to assist with muscle aches and pains, and it reduces pain in the body and assist with a deeper sleep.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal Medicine may assist with reducing your stress levels in conjunction with lifestyle changes, diet changes and implementing mindfulness.
Acupuncture may assist to reduce stress levels by improving the blood flow and circulation of energy through the meridians and removing blockages. It also works on the neuropathways of the brain and releases serotonin into the body which assists with relaxation. This is also why after an Acupuncture treatment; you feel more relaxed and lighter.
Written by Dr Julia Bartrop – Acupuncturist and busy mum of 2 littles ones (3 and almost 2).