How Stress Affects Your Health
Many people seek out acupuncture for its effects as a natural pain reliever. Do you know that acupuncture has a profoundly relaxing affect and can help with acute and 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’ve probably all felt the signs of ongoing stress at some point in our lives: worrying thoughts, a racing heartbeat, muscle tension, shallow breathing or poor sleep. After a while, this may even lead to headaches, digestive upset and change of mood. For some of us, if it goes on long enough it can lead to or worsen anxiety, panic attacks or bouts of depression.
“Lifestyle Stressors” can be a wide variety of things around us – this is nothing new. Often they are just a part of modern life: demanding job or school schedules, balancing work and personal life, raising kids, finances, etc.
But combine this with the myriad of “constant everyday stressors” that are both big and small, and can be different for all of us. These range from an overflowing inbox, traffic, deadlines, bills, the news or even just keeping up with social media.
For some people it may also include “silent stressors” such as old traumas that have not been fully processed and dealt with, yet still contribute to an evergrowing snowball of stress. Perhaps at some point the balancing act starts to slip, or perhaps one event pushes it all too far. The combination of factors can start to overwhelm the body to show up as chronic stress. And despite our best efforts, chronic stress can affect our health.
Chronic stress has been linked as a contributing factor in many health issues.
Stress and the Fight or Flight Response
When our bodies perceive a potential danger, our nervous system goes into the “Fight or Flight mode” in order to protect our interests. This is often a lifesaving strategy, and stress is absolutely necessary – in the right place and right time. It has worked for millenia to keep humans safe from harm.
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 temporarily – so that we can focus all our 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 a barrage of constant stress messages being sent from the surrounding environment?
The Cycle of Chronic Stress
There can come a point when the body no longer discerns which danger signals are an actual threat. At this point, it may be sending out stress hormones to all stress triggers the same way. Our bodies and minds can become sensitized to over-respond – in many cases to what may be minor problems.
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”, when in reality you are not. This type of overexposure to stress hormones can negatively disrupt almost all of your body’s processes.
How Acupuncture Can Help You Cope with Stress
Acupuncture can be a key asset in managing your body’s reaction to stress. It can even help reverse the negative effects that chronic stress may already have had on your health. Acupuncture takes you right out of “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 your body and mind. Most people report a deeply relaxing sensation during and after an acupuncture session – usuall they go on to have a better sleep that night as well.
The Body’s Relaxation Respose – or “Rest and Digest mode” – is where the body and mind naturally 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 deal 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 healthier 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 re-frame your ability to handle stress, thus stopping the negative chronic cycle.
Barbara Poczyniak, R.Ac
Registered Acupuncturist, Clinic Founder
Interested in learning more about Acupuncture to relieve stress or related conditions? I’m a Registered Acupuncturist with a Holistic Healthcare practice in Toronto, ON.
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