How Stress Affects Your Health
Most people who seek out acupuncture are very familiar with it being an effective natural pain reliever. Do you know that acupuncture has a profoundly relaxing affect and can help with chronic stress?
Stress is now estimated to be a key factor in up to 80% of all illnesses! Studies have found that even if chronic stress isn’t the cause of the initial illness it can often worsen the symptoms that are already present.
We have all probably felt the signs of ongoing stress at some point in our lives: worrying thoughts, a racing heartbeat, muscle tension, shallow breathing, poor sleep. Perhaps even leading to headaches and irritable moods for a few weeks. For many of us, if it goes on long enough it can even lead to digestive upset, constipation, anxiety, panic attacks or depression.
“Stressors” are a wide variety of agressors all around us – this is nothing new. Many would argue they’re just a part of modern life: demanding jobs; balancing a career and long hours with your personal life; raising kids; getting ahead.
Combine this with all of the myriad ‘everyday stresses’ big and small – these can be different for all of us. Keeping up with news, politics, overflowing inboxes, job contracts, performance reviews, traffic, debt, housing costs …
Even social media and the constant need to keep up with everything for fear of falling behind can contribute to the snowball of stress.
Sometimes even old emotional traumas that have not yet been fully processed and dealt with can act as silent stressors. Perhaps at some point the balancing act starts to slip, or perhaps one major stressor pushes us too far. The combination of factors can start to overwhelm the body to show up as chronic stress. Despite our best efforts, stress can affect our health.
Chronic Stress can be a contributing factor in …
Stress and the Fight or Flight Response
When our bodies perceive a potential danger (or an agressor) our nervous system goes into the “Fight or Flight” mode to protect ourselves. This is not always a bad thing. Stress is absolutely necessary – in the right place and in the right amount: it can help us protect ourselves and stay safe.
In this mode the brain’s “stress hormones” (including cortisol, adrenaline among others) send signals to our nervous system telling it to increase heart rate, blood pressure and breathing capacity. At the same time, our digestion and relaxation responses are de-activated, so that we can focus all energy on the looming problem.
But what happens when our bodies can no longer tell the difference between a real threat and a perceived threat? What happens when our bodies get used to constant stress messages?
The Cycle of Chronic Stress
There can come a point when the body no longer knows if it is sending out the stress hormones for the right reasons. Our minds and bodies can become sensitized to over-respond to what amount to be minor hassles.
To make matters more complex, being over-tired and over-caffeinated can make our reaction to stress all the more inappropriate.
This can start an unhealthy cycle of chronic stress – of feeling that you are “always under attack”. This type of overexposure to stress hormones can negatively disrupt almost all of your body’s processes.
How Acupuncture Can Help with Stress
Acupuncture can be a key asset in helping manage how your body reacts to stress. It can even help reverse the negative affects that chronic stress may already have had on your health. Acupuncture takes you right out of the “Fight or Flight” mode by stimulating the body’s own Relaxation Response. This response is similar to what you would feel during and after other relaxing activities such as meditation. It essentially acts like a re-boot button for the body and mind.
Most people report a deeply relaxing sensation during and after an acupuncture session – regardless what the focus of the treatment they came in for. Usually they go on to have a great sleep that night as well. The Body’s Relaxation Response – or “Rest and Digest” mode – is where the body and mind naturally take time to rest and renew. This is the mode in which the body’s innate healing response is activated.
After a series of treatments, many patients report feeling calmer, more rested and refreshed. They ultimately feel better equipped to dealing with everyday stressful situations. Acupuncture works in such a way that it supports the body’s optimal balance, allowing us to sleep better, digest better and handle our emotions in a healthy capacity.
Know that acupuncture cannot actually take your stress away – but it can help your mind and body re-set and repair. It can help you feel better and help you to re-frame your ability to handle stress, thus stopping this negative cycle. Think of it as a natural reset to help your body going strong.
Barbara Poczyniak, R.Ac
Registered Acupuncturist, Clinic Founder
Interested in learning more about Acupuncture to help relieve stress? I’m a Registered Acupuncturist with a Holistic Healthcare practice in Toronto, ON.
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