Our modern lifestyle is synonymous with stress. Our lives are so rushed that we rarely have the time to pause and acknowledge the stress we experience. Pretty much every area of our lives are a source of stress – from juggling our deadlines at work and completing household chores to meeting financial obligations and managing family responsibilities. Most of us just accept stress as inevitable which is why we don’t take steps to reduce our stress levels. However, stress doesn’t just affect our mental and emotional health as research shows that stress also affects our physical health.
How Chronic Stress Affects the Body
Impacts Heart Health
Chronic stress increases your risk of high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks and heart disease. When you get stressed, your body releases a flood of the hormone cortisol which increases your heart rate and tenses your muscles. While the occasional stress response does not have a lasting impact on your health, chronic stress causes high levels of cortisol for prolonged periods. Research indicates that high levels of cortisol from long-term stress can increase blood pressure and the levels of blood cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar – the most common risk factors for heart disease. Stress also promotes the build-up of arterial plaque which limits blood flow and increases the risk of a heart attack.
Increases the Risk of Sexual Dysfunction
Sexual dysfunction is a common problem that affects approximately 31% of men and 43% of women in our country. Sexual dysfunction includes issues such as erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation in men and a lack of sexual desire, the inability to become aroused and the lack of orgasm in women. Erectile dysfunction is one of the most common sexual dysfunction problems as it affects about 18 million American men over the age of 20. Studies show that psychological factors such as stress are the most common cause of ED. Counseling, therapy and stress reduction methods can help to prevent and treat stress-related sexual dysfunction.
Triggers Skin and hair problems
Studies show that stress is closely associated with a variety of skin problems including acne, psoriasis and eczema. High stress increases the production of sebum which increases your risk of an acne breakout. Stress can also trigger an immune reaction which can result in autoimmune diseases such as alopecia and vitiligo. Stress and skin or hair problems are closely linked and can form a vicious cycle where stress triggers skin and hair problems that cause an individual further stress. Researchers found that there is a 30-40% incidence of psychiatric issues such as stress, anxiety and depression among dermatological patients.
Greatly increases the risk of Obesity and other Eating Disorders
The National Center for Health Statistics for 2015-2016 estimates that 39.8% of adults (20 years old and over) were obese while an additional 31.8% were overweight. Changes in eating habits play a key role in the obesity epidemic but the underlying cause for these dietary changes is stress. Studies show that chronic stress triggers the craving for “comfort foods” which are high in sugars and fats. This is why people with chronic stress are at a much higher risk of obesity and other eating disorders such as binge eating and bulimia nervosa.
Increases the Frequency and Intensity of Headaches
When you experience stress, your muscles tense up in anticipation. Chronic stress keeps your neck and scalp muscles tense for a prolonged period which can trigger a tension headache. According to health experts, tension headaches are the most common type of headache. Chronic stress can also increase your risk of a migraine headache. Unlike tension headaches (that are not debilitating), a migraine headaches is an intense throbbing pain that can be felt on one or both sides of the head. The pain from migraine headaches can be excruciating and last for 4-72 hours. Migraine headaches can also cause sensitivity to light and sound as well as nausea and vomiting.
Ways to overcome Chronic Stress
Although chronic stress can feel overwhelming, it’s not beyond your control. There’s a lot that you can do to lower stress levels naturally using a variety of techniques that are proven to help. These can include:
Studies show that acupuncture reduces stress over time which makes it invaluable in the treatment of chronic stress. Acupuncture stimulates the release of several hormones including oxytocin and serotonin which reduce stress responses, including anxiety. Specific acupuncture points provide greater stress relief and are used frequently by licensed practitioners. Acupuncture can also help to reverse the effects of chronic stress and have a positive effect on existing health problems such as hypertension.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This is another stress reduction technique that is highly recommended as it can be used to consciously relax whenever you start to feel the pressure build. It involves tensing and relaxing specific muscles in the body in synchrony with your breathing.
Similar to progressive muscle relaxation and just as effective, deep breathing exercises promote both mental and physical relaxation within minutes, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. The practice is recommended for coping with stress disorders and depression, as well as chronic pain.
There are several types of meditation and you can make a choice based on your preferences, the amount of time you have and what you intend to get out of your meditation sessions. It really doesn’t matter what type of meditation you take up, as any form of meditation will help. The practice is known to provide immediate stress relief and also helps build resilience against stress, allowing you to cope more efficiently with difficult situations.
Stress can have a severe impact on our overall health which is why we can’t afford to simply ignore this problem and hope it goes away. It is estimated that up to 90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints. In addition to stress reduction techniques, you can also make changes to your lifestyle that are known to promote relaxation and make you less vulnerable to the effects of stress. Physical activity would top the list, as this is one of the best ways to get a rush of endorphins, helping counter the effects of stress. Reducing your stress levels will increase your resilience so that you can overcome life’s challenges allowing you to lead a happy, productive and fulfilling life.
Author Bio -Anita Fernandes has been writing extensively on mental health and wellness for over a decade. She has expertise in nutrition, fitness, public health, and weight loss and has contributed content to a variety of leading digital health publishers. Anita has a unique perspective on healthy living and lifestyle, as she has battled and overcome eating disorders and obesity. She shares her experiences in an effort to help others overcome the physical and mental health problems that can sometimes seem insurmountable.
There are several acupressure points that are known to treat stress and stress related symptoms. It’s important to understand that acupressure is not the only form of treatment and having a balanced diet, exercise regime and lifestyle will also decrease the chances of stress being a factor in your life.
The following five acupoints are known to help alleviate stress and other related symptoms.
LU 1—Zhong Fu
GV 24.5—Yin Tang
KI 1—Yong Quan
LI 4—He Gu
S 36- Zu San Li
Lu 1, Zhong Fu- This point is often used to treat vomiting, stops coughing, disperses fullness in the chest, stops pain and regulates Lung Qi. It’s located in the upper chest in the space below the first rib, six cun from the midline. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Lu 1 regulates Lung Qi and stimulates the Lung Qi to descend. It also disperses fullness in the chest and stops coughing.
KI 1, Yongquan, Bubbling Spring- This acupoint is located on the sole of the foot approximately at the junction of the second and third toes. Indications that this acupoint will aid you are if you’re experiencing headaches, dizziness, loss of voice, blurring of vision and so on. In TCM, this acupoint is known to subdue wind and empty-heat, clear up the brain, and tonifies yin.
LI 4, Hegu, Joining (Union) Valley- The LI 4 is known to treat swelling and pain of the eye, nasal obstruction, toothache, facial swelling, deafness, sore throat and much more. In TCM, it’s said to dispel exterior wind, stimulate the dispersing function of the lungs, removes pain, and harmonizing descending and ascending functions. This point is located on the back of the hand at the apex of the webbed triangle between the thumb and the index finger.
ST 36, Zu San Li- This acupoint is often used to treat vomiting, stress and fatigue and gastrointestinal discomfort. This point is located along the outside of your shin bone about 4 finger lengths from the knee cap. You will know you’re in the right location because a muscle will mom out as you move your foot up and down. In TCM, this point is stimulated frequently to promote health and longevity.
GV 24.5, Yin Tang, Third Eye- This point is located about one finger above the point between the eyebrows and will be almost directly in the middle of the forehead. Working this point is said to calm the mind, clarify ideas and intuition as well as strengthen mental projection. It can be used to alleviate dizziness, stress, vertigo, sinusitis and headaches.
Each of the above points can be used to aid in relieving stress and/or other symptoms that can cause stress. It’s helpful to bring a list to your Acupuncturist of any symptoms you may have or are looking to treat, any information will be helpful in curating your individualized treatment plan. Please communicate with your Acupuncturist if you are pregnant or looking to become pregnant as some pressure points may affect you.
Winter’s element is water and is associated with the kidneys, which in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is considered the source of all qi and energy within the body. Winter is also associated with the bladder and adrenal glands.
Focusing on inner reflection, rest, energy conservation and storage during the winter months is when it’s most important as it helps us to properly nourish our Kidney Qi.
Below are a few methods you can learn about and apply during this season in order to maintain a balanced qi.
Balancing your lifestyle
For most people, a reduction in activity is common during the winter months whether it’s due to the frigid temperatures, damp weather, or lack of activities available in the area where you reside.
Given that reduced activity is likely a factor for many, it’s important to also consume less food this time of year to avoid unnecessary weight gain. Food that should be gravitated towards would be warmer foods such as beans, ginger or garlic, and even soups and stews.
Rest & Relaxation
Although the days are shorter during the winter, it’s important to stay in line with our circadian rhythm. This can be done by having an earlier bedtime and waking up after the sun has had time to warm the earth in the morning. Not only does getting more sleep helps with balancing our Yang Qi, it helps give our body the necessary rest we need in order to prevent common winter illnesses such as the flu, colds, and general aches and pains. Not only that, but according to TCM, unresolved anger, stress and frustration can throw your immune system thus off allowing pathogens to affect the body.
Relaxation is also a way to stay balanced during this time of year.
Drink Plenty of Water
We’re all aware that drinking water is extremely important to our survival, but it does more than simply keeping us alive.
Drinking water has many benefits including the fact that it’s essential for proper kidney function and can even prevent kidney stones. It’s also known for lubricating the joints, delivers oxygen through the body, regulates body temperature, and maintaining blood pressure.
If you have a hard time drinking water, try adding lemon to it to amplify the taste, drinking tea, or adding a vitamin flavor enhancer.
Wash your hands
Winter time is the time of year where we are in close proximity with others because we tend to stay indoors more. That being said, we are more likely to spread our germs to others and vice versa.
Washing your hands often can help prevent the spread of germs and keep you healthy. Other ways to avoid coming in contact with germs is to keep a container of sanitizing cloths with you so you can wipe down door knobs, grocery cart handles, and even condiment containers at restaurants before handling them.
The acupuncture point that we suggest catering to is Du 14. It helps regulate blood circulation and can also strengthen the outer defense layers of the skin and muscle to prevent the intrusion and duration of germs and viruses.
Du 14 is a crucial point that is used to release the Exterior and treat Wind-Heat.
Applying Traditional Chinese Medicine to your active lifestyle is beneficial for your health and should be made a priority.
A study published in the Annals of Yoga and Physical Therapy looked at how acupuncture treatments affect stress levels in administrative workers at a local hospital. The study included 58 participants who reported high levels of stress associated with their jobs. The participants were treated with eight weeks of auricular acupuncture. After the eight acupuncture sessions, the workers reported their stress levels had decreased from high to moderate. The study hypothesizes that reduced stress levels are associated with regular acupuncture treatments due to the release of neurotransmitters in the body. This study and many others are providing evidence that acupuncture can indeed decrease stress levels and improve overall health.
Stress is defined as either pressure or tension exerted on an object or a state of mental or emotional strain resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.
Here are some facts from the Global Organization for Stress:
● Americans report higher levels of stress than most countries around the globe.
● Surveys show that nearly one out of 75 people worldwide experience panic attacks.
● Stress in American teenagers is now one of the top health concerns and it is being found that teenagers experiencing stress are more likely to develop long-term health problems.
● We all experience stress in our lives.
● But learning how to deal with it can be crucial for a happy, healthy life.
One way to deal with stress involves the use of a 3,000 year old medical system, known as Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM. TCM uses many different modalities or tools to treat the human mind and body. The most commonly used modality is acupuncture and while acupuncture is still not widely accepted in the United States, it is gaining ground.
Studies show acupuncture can reduce stress when used regularly. The Journal of Endocrinology published a study showing stress hormones, like cortisol, were lower in rats that had received electroacupuncture. The use of electroacupuncture actually blocked the chronic stress hormones in the rats. It does the exact same thing for humans.
Specific acupuncture points on the body are better for relieving stress and are used frequently by licensed practitioners. One of these points is Yin Tang. Yin Tang is located directly between the inner edges of the eyebrows and is a reflex point of the pituitary gland. Yin Tang calms the mind and relaxes the body by helping control hormone secretions.
Another acupuncture point, Kidney 1, is not as frequently used because of its location, however, it can work wonders for decreasing stress. Kidney 1 is located on the bottom of the foot, at the junction of the anterior one third and posterior two thirds of the line connecting the base of the second and third toes and the heel. This point is VERY sensitive, but it has amazing properties. Kidney 1 can sedate and calm the mind, while also regulating blood flow to the upper part of the body also known as the brain.
There are other tools TCM practitioners can use to relieve stress, such as cupping and herbs, although acupuncture and acupressure tend to work the fastest. Ask me to find out more!
Winter is just one of the five seasons acknowledged by Traditional Chinese Medicine. The ancient Chinese followed the belief that humans should live in harmony with the cycles of nature. During the winter months, the darkness and cold indicate that we should slow down, take care of our health, conserve our strength and replenish our energy for the upcoming spring and summer months. This is observed in the animal kingdom, and it should also be considered a good rule of thumb for human beings.
Each season has multiple associations that help us adjust our habits as things change, which makes it easier to keep the body and mind balanced. Winter is ruled by the water element. The water element is associated with the kidneys and urinary bladder. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophy, the kidneys are the source of all energy found within the body. This energy, frequently called qi (pronounced “chee”), is what keeps us alive and allows our bodies to function properly. During the winter months, it is vital that we nourish and nurture our kidney qi.
Winter is typically a time when we decrease our daily activities. Because of this, we should also decrease the amount of food that we eat to avoid gaining excess weight. It is also recommended that excessively cold and raw foods be avoided or at least countered with things like hot tea. Cold and raw foods can deplete the kidney energy over time. This can lead to problems with digestion, sleep and much more.
It is suggested that during the winter months, we should emphasize foods that are warming to the body. This includes things like soups, stews, root vegetables, beans, garlic and ginger. Also foods like whole grains and roasted nuts can help keep the body’s core warm, while providing healthy nourishment.
The second organ associated with the season of winter is the urinary bladder. The urinary bladder is a reservoir where water in the body collects for disposal. The urinary bladder receives impure or dirty fluids from the small intestine and then further transforms these fluids into urine. The urinary bladder then stores and excretes urine as needed. This function also plays an important role in helping to regulate a person’s blood pressure. The ability to transform the impure fluids depends on the energy of the kidneys.
One of the most important things anybody can do during the winter months to stay healthy is drink plenty of water. Winter, in most places, literally drains the moisture out of the body. It is recommended that we drink at least 64 ounces of water per day, even during the winter months. However, the thought of drinking cold water in cold weather is a concept that tends to keep a lot of people clinically dehydrated during the winter months. This is why warm water with lemon or hot tea are good substitutes. We are still ingesting water, while avoiding the cold that could potentially damage our core.
By following the guidelines set forth by nature, we can also remain in balance with the natural world around us. This is how our ancestors did it and it served them quite well. Perhaps there is something to be learned from the wisdom our elders passed down through the generations.
Governing Vessel 14 is called The Great Hammer. This point is located below C 7 on the spine. C 7, the seventh cervical vertebrae is the one which is the most prominent. Traditionally the vertebrae were referred to as hammers because of their resemblance to the tool. This point is great because it is the intersecting point for all of the Yang meridians in the body. In winter time, this point is often used to treat colds and other illnesses that are common this time of year.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine there are six types of evils that can afflict the body. Wind, cold, heat, dryness, dampness, summer heat are the six evils, or excesses. Governing Vessel 14 is good at expelling pathogens in the body, including invasions of wind and cold, as well as summer heat. Wind cold can enter the body through the area between Governing Vessel 14 and Bladder 12. This is why it is important to wear a scarf in the winter. You want to protect your body from an invasion of wind cold. If you do become afflicted you may get a cold, fever, flu and experience coughing. In the summer, excess heat can cause high fevers and GV 14 is effective in reducing them. GV 14 can also be needled to keep the wei qi (the protective qi, akin to the immune system) strong, thus protecting the body from external pathogens.
Due to its location on the neck, GV 14 can be used for neck pain or stiff neck, pain along the spine, headaches, toothache and sore throats. As you can see, Governing Vessel 14 is not only a great point in general, but a critical point during the winter months when cold and flu season are upon us and the threat of evil wind and cold is all around us.
A study published by the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine looked at the holistic effects of acupuncture treatments. The study looked at how acupuncture treatments were conducted and evaluated. One of the areas this study looked at is how acupuncture influences the function of the brain. By using functional MRI imaging, the researchers were able to see certain areas of the brain were stimulated during the acupuncture treatments. The anterior insula and striatum, areas involved in motivation processing, were very responsive to the treatments. The study confirmed acupuncture on specific points can activate motivation centers in the brain, thus leading to increased physical motivation in the participants.
Everybody experiences times where they have no motivation. Lack of motivation can be caused by many things: weather, depression, nutritional deficiencies, rejection and even not exercising.
Lacking motivation can be detrimental to your health. Even though everybody knows they should be exercising and eating right and getting proper sleep, many of us choose not to. This becomes a bad habit that can actually develop into depression, fatigue, insomnia and even nutritional deficiencies that can cause even worse physical problems. We tell ourselves we don’t have time or we have no motivation or willpower. These are just stories we tell ourselves. EVERYBODY has time to care for themselves. It’s just a choice we have to make.
Acupuncture can help put the pep back in your step when it comes to motivation. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), lack of motivation is considered some sort of blockage along the energetic pathways that run throughout the body. Most commonly, this affects the gallbladder and liver pathways. Over time, this lack of motivation frequently develops into depression. When the body is depressed, nothing seems possible. But the fact of the matter is that, there are underlying causes to depression that begin with the lack of motivation.
The reason TCM works so well at addressing and correcting motivation problems is because it addresses the body holistically. When people go to their doctor and tell them that they have no motivation, they are frequently prescribed antidepressants. But the problem with antidepressants is they don’t address the underlying causes of the issue. TCM looks at everything: the body, the mind, the environment and the emotions. This allows for treatments to be customized to the needs of the patient instead of a one size fits all approach.
As mentioned, the liver and gallbladder pathways are most commonly associated with lack of motivation. When either or both of these pathways become blocked, motivation dissipates and people become depressed. One of the first things that happens is emotions become involved and send signals to the digestive tract. This is why many times, people who lack motivation or who have developed depression have no appetite. Energy comes from eating healthy foods. But when we have no appetite, we tend to crave things like sweets and carbohydrates because they give us the “emotional high” that temporarily sedates the depression and lack of motivation. But this quickly goes away and we end up right back where we started.
The gallbladder pathway is important when motivation is lost. The gallbladder pathway is associated with courage and decisiveness. Lack of motivation causes most people to not be decisive. The inability to decide or act or the lack of motivation to act is associated with a weakness of the gallbladder system. Regular acupuncture treatments can help with this issue, as well as moving energy along both the liver and gallbladder pathways, thus restoring balance to the body and increasing motivation.
A study published by BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine looked at the effects of acupuncture in the treatment of depression. For the study, rats were exposed to three weeks of chronic unpredictable mild stress, which put them into a state of depression. Once depression had set in, the rats were then treated using two acupuncture points for 10-minute sessions. What was discovered was that depression-like behaviors were decreased using this treatment method. Therefore, it was determined by this particular study, that acupuncture indeed has positive effects on the symptoms of depression and can be used as a means to treat the disease.
Depression is defined as a mental disorder characterized by feelings of dejection and severe despondency. Worldwide, nearly 350 million people suffer from depression and nearly 16 million of those are in the United States alone. Statistics show women tend to be more likely to experience depression and young adults between the ages of 18 to 22 are also at higher risk. Symptoms of depression include extreme irritability over minor issues, anxiety, restlessness, irrational anger, lack of interest in everyday activities, thoughts of death, insomnia, severe fatigue, weight gain/loss, difficulty concentrating and unexplained aches and pains. When these symptoms occur for more than a few weeks, depression may be the reason behind them.
As shown in the aforementioned study, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is very effective in treating depression, not only short-term, but also long-term. Modern medicine usually treats depression with antidepressants and psychotherapy regardless of the presenting symptoms. In contrast, TCM diagnoses each patient on an individual basis and treats the specific symptoms, while also addressing the root of the illness.
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can help alleviate symptoms of depression while also attacking the root cause(s), thus bringing the body and mind back into balance. The body and mind are inseparable and should be treated as a whole, which is the approach used by acupuncturists. When we experience emotional challenges and become upset, our physical body may become affected as well. Then a vicious cycle begins because the emotions are greatly impacted by what we can and cannot do physically.
The theory behind treating depression using TCM, all revolves around the concept of Qi (pronounced “chee”). Qi is considered the vital energy that flows through the body and animates everything. When Qi is blocked or stagnant, illness can take root, either physically or mentally. Qi flows throughout the body on energetic pathways or meridians. Each energetic meridian is associated with an organ and each organ has its own emotion. For example, the emotion of the liver meridian is anger. When Qi is blocked and liver Qi stagnation occurs, anger can then manifest. From the same standpoint, if a person is excessively angry, the flow of Qi can be blocked creating stagnation.
Acupuncture releases endorphins and activates natural pain killers. By doing so, it improves the flow of Qi throughout the body while eliminating blockages and bringing balance to the mind and body. Endorphins counter the symptoms of depression and allow the person to resume a normal life.
If you are suffering from depression and are looking for a natural way of dealing with it, contacting a licensed acupuncturist might be exactly what you need. A local acupuncturist can help you navigate the waters of depression without the harmful side-effects of pharmaceuticals, while helping you get back to a happier life.
Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that humans should live in harmony with the seasons. According to traditional Chinese medicine there are five seasons: winter, spring, summer, late summer and fall. Each season has many associations that help us change our habits, allowing for a more balanced mind and body.
When these systems were being developed, people were living in harmony with nature. People rose with the sun, ate what was available during the different seasons and they were much more aware of their natural environment. What to wear, when to wake up, when to go to sleep and what activities to engage in were all dependent on the weather and the environment. Because of this, people were capable of staying healthy throughout the year and their immune and organ systems were strong enough to ward off disease.
1. Get some rest
In TCM, the season of winter is a time of repair and rejuvenation. Winter is associated with the kidneys, which hold the body’s fundamental energies. Rest is important for revitalizing the kidneys.This is why some animals hibernate during the winter months. We should also spend more time resting during the winter months to help prepare our bodies for the months ahead when most people expend more energy.
2. Incorporate self reflection
Winter is a really good time to turn inward and do some reflection. Practices like tai chi, qi gong and yoga can be very beneficial during the winter season. These practices help us connect to our inner selves, while supporting the kidney energy. They also help relax the mind and calm our emotions. Things like journaling and meditation are other ways of reflecting during the winter months. Long term, these practices can be very helpful at extending a person’s life.
3. Drink water, lots of water
The kidneys are closely associated and ruled by the water element, which is the element associated with winter, so it is important to remember to drink water during wintertime. Drinking room temperature water is a vital step to maintaining sufficient kidney qi throughout the winter months.
4. Eat warm, seasonal foods
Choose foods that grow naturally during the winter. Items such as squash, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, root vegetables like beets, greens, carrots, mushrooms, apples, pears and cabbage are great. During the winter months, cold foods like salads and raw foods should be avoided as they will deplete the immune system. There are also foods that specifically target and nourish the kidneys, including kidney beans, beef, goose, duck, black beans, lamb, chicken, dark leafy greens, garlic, ginger, walnuts, quinoa, asparagus, celery, onion, fennel, scallions, cloves, watercress and turnips. Sea salt is also helpful, because salty is the taste associated with the kidneys. As with anything, moderation is key. Too much salt can actually tax the heart, which then causes the kidneys to work overtime.
5. Treat yourself to some TCM
Traditional Chinese Medicine utilizes numerous modalities and tools to help keep the body balanced and prepped for the seasonal changes. Acupuncture and moxibustion are two of the tools that are regularly used to boost the kidney qi. Moxibustion is a practice where dried mugwort is burned very near the skin to warm and boost the qi within the body. There are certain acupuncture points that are essential for boosting kidney qi. Most are located either on the lower abdomen, below the umbilicus or on the lower back above the hip bones, in the areas of the kidneys. Applying moxibustion to these areas is a wonderful way to boost the energy reserves of the kidneys.
When we align ourselves with the natural processes of life and the seasons, our bodies will adjust and perform optimally, just as they are intended to.
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