By Hayley Stobbs R.Ac, CNC | Acupuncture Victoria BC
We start each day akin to a well full of water. As the day progresses so does the speed, and with each human detour away from nature’s pace a pouring of water is emptied from our reservoir of tranquility. Waking up to the blaring sound of an alarm, running late for work or class, eating on the go, and weaving in and out of traffic while thinking about deadlines and demands are regular rhythms in modern day lives.
By observing our culture’s quickening in these ways we can see that we are collectively in an extreme of doing and taking in contrast to being and receiving. When our unique sources of nourishment become drained by on-the-go schedules and routines, our ability to manage stress becomes more difficult, and anxiety can surmount.
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” – Lao Tzu
Stress arises from a sense of fear, worry, futurizing, and/or depleted reserves (exhaustion), while anxiety is a more intense form of stress that involves panic, habitual catastrophizing, and increased somatic sensations. Both mental-emotional states are characterized by a sense of inner tension, negative thinking and feeling patterns, overwhelm, and a resistance to something that doesn’t happen or feel right.
Sources of modern day stress and anxiety:
- Family and relationships
- Societal expectations and ‘norms’
- Schedules, deadlines, and demands
- School and work
- Electromagnetic frequencies (EMF)
- Artificial lighting and scents
- ‘Doctor google’
- Trauma and news reports
- Body image
- Excess or lack of exercise
- Drugs and stimulants
- Junk and convenience foods
- Lack of social interaction
- Inadequate or lack of quality sleep
- Limited beliefs
- Mind-body disassociation
- Non-perceived, e.g. a big celebration
Both perceived and non-perceived sources of stress are obviously inevitable and unavoidable parts of our human existence. To an extent, accepting that stress happens, “so what”, is a part of the healing. At the same time, increments of pro-active participation with one’s relationship to their mental-emotional state must become routine in order for healing to take place. Regular self-care opens up space for awareness, intuition building, prevention, and understanding so that health and happiness may become more available.
Common biomedical causes and effects of anxiety:
- Chronic pain and tension
- Hormone imbalance
- Neurotransmitter imbalance, e.g. GABA, serotonin
- Autoimmune disease
- Respiratory and cardiovascular disorders
- Digestive conditions
- Nutritional lack or excess
- Non perceived physical stress, e.g. a hidden infection
The link between mental-emotional and physical health is circular as opposed to linear, which can be explained through feedback loops such as the gut-brain axis and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Through multifaceted interactions as these we can see that stress and anxiety are both causes and/or effects of health conditions, though keep in mind that on-sets and reasons are as varied and diverse as co-conditions are. For example, anxiety can be constitutional or genetic, meaning that it’s a part of an individual’s intrinsic nature--something that has been experienced since childhood. For others, anxiety can arise due to declining hormones throughout menopause, from nutritional lack or excess, and via food constituents or qualities. It can also present as a new and intense symptom for someone who has never experienced it before, which indicates that comprehensive lab-testing is required.
It is common in our culture to think that forms of stress and anxiety are weak, powerless, crazy, and shameful. What one experiences as stressful may be harmless to another, and this is where judgment can override understanding and compassion for the unique individual. In reality, there is duality within each emotional state.
Often the benefits of emotional tribulations can outweigh risks as they build character and wisdom. For example, fear and worry as our helpers elicit the thrill to be alive, creates new medicines and proactive preventative habits, kicks in our ability to be alert, cultivates empathy, and heightens our intuitive threat and risk assessment. The natural cycle of fear as an initiator transitions from awareness of a threat, to feeling a fear, to the mind considering solution, action, and safety. However, when this cycle becomes habitually disharmonized, fear as illness can result. Any emotion that is prolonged, extreme, and repressed, can reduce vitality and produce disease.
Acupuncture, Stress, and Anxiety
As a registered acupuncturist it is my purpose to teach holism--that your mind, emotions, spirit, anatomy, physiology, and environment, are one. Mental-emotional disharmonies have the potential to disturb the soul and to alter the internal organs and meridians. Likewise, meridian blockages and constitutional organ disorders can affect one’s mental- emotional state of being. According to Chinese medicine stress and anxiety arise due to qi stagnation (lack of functional, energetic, or emotional flow in one’s life), and is commonly associated with multiple meridian and organ disharmonies. Acupuncture helps strengthen the body-mind, which boosts one’s ability to clear meridian blockages and to regulate imbalances.
“Chronic fear leads to static fluids and less ability to respond to threatening situations. It prevents thinking in a fluid way. Just as physically the fluid in the joints helps people throw a ball, the fluids of the mind and spirit help them to flow and manifest smoothly.”- Angela and John Hicks
Acupuncture is an extremely effective treatment for stress and anxiety. This is because acupuncture is a form of mindfulness meditation, as it allows the individual to engage in being and receiving as the needles guide the mind-body into a deep state of relaxation. Biomedically, acupuncture works with the brain by acting on the nervous system. Inserting a needle stimulates nervous system receptors. The receptor response increases brain firing and creates specific neurochemical changes. This brain and nervous system communication regulates the parasympathetic nervous system, boosts mood through serotonin and dopamine release, and eases pain through relieving muscle tension and the release of endorphins. As the needles are retained the body’s electromagnetic energy balances and improved blood flow occurs. Blood brings oxygen, nutrients, immune substances, analgesics, and anti-inflammatories to areas of the body that require healing.
Patients see improvement in mood, immune strength, energy, digestion, hormone regulation, and overall sense of well-being. I recommend one to two treatments per week until symptoms subside to a point where one tune-up treatment per month is required.
Ultimately, a thorough assessment and the implementation of nutrition, lifestyle, and self-care habits can dramatically improve stress and anxiety levels. In addition to acupuncture I always recommend cognitive-behavioral counseling and mind-body practices such as yoga and meditation, bodywork, qi gong or tai chi. I also often refer to naturopathic physicians for lab work so that digestive, hormone, and neurological sources of stress can be assessed.
Stay tuned to my upcoming blog posts, 10 tips for emotional health and healing.
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