Acupuncture and Stress in Our Times

Nov 19, 2020

Here’s a not-so-fun fact:  stress is linked to the six leading causes of death. This means that unmanaged feelings of stress are being connected to heart disease, cancer, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.  Can acupuncture help counter the stress that seems to be running rampant in our world today?  What else can we do to manage these feelings of stress, anxiety and accompanying feelings of depression that seem to be so prevalent in our lives?

According to a study published by the American Psychological Association in May of 2020, 74% of people report feeling a significant amount of stress around themselves or a family member coming down with Covid-19.  Seventy percent of those surveyed are feeling increased stress around getting their basic needs (such as food and housing) met, and 66% reported anxiety around whether or not they would have access to healthcare services should they need them. (APA, 2020)

With everything that has transpired the last year, it is no surprise that these numbers are higher this year than they were in the past.  Seventy percent of working adults cite work (or lack thereof) as a significant source of stress in their lives, as opposed to 64% who said the same thing less than a year before this survey.  Not surprisingly, 70% of working adults say that concerns about our economy.  This is a nearly 35% increase from 2019.  (APA, 2020)

Somewhere around three-quarters of the population name money as the number one factor that affects their stress levels.  Money is often cited as biggest stressor in relationships, so it’s no wonder that concerns about money are at the top of the list for affecting our perceived levels of stress.

Before Covid-19 hit the streets, two-thirds of all office visits to a family physician are due to stress-related symptoms.  I don’t have the exact statistic for this in 2020, but even before the stressors of this year took hold, it was reported that one would be visiting a doctor for stress-related symptoms on two out of every three visits.

Finally, there appears to be an increasing number of children, teenagers and college students that report feeling stressed. It is not surprising though, given all of the cell phones, social media, 4G and 5G and instant everything that has become the norm in our culture.  How often do you see someone under the age of 40 without some sort of communication or entertainment device in their hand?  Is it really that surprising that there is an increasing number of children, teenagers and college students that are feeling stressed and exhibiting symptoms associated with this?

So what is stress?  It’s such a catch-phrase (in one word!) these days, that I think that it has lost a lot of it’s meaning.  In my office, when someone says they are “stressed,” after a brief period of guided self-inquiry, it turns out that a person is really, sad, scared, frustrated or even in a period of grief that they were trying to keep at bay.  Pay attention to how all of these emotions can manifest in the body in the same way: tight chest, racing heart, churning stomach, digestive reflux, changes in bowel patterns, foggy thinking, insomnia and even more.  These things are actually very common symptoms of new love, and the only difference is in our stories about them.  It’s so much easier to say, “I’m stressed out,” than to admit to feeling scared or overwhelmed by your current situation.  Feeling “stressed out” is easier than putting boundaries in place with a manager or a partner, lightening your load so that you can take better care of yourself.  Naturally we prefer these feelings to be associated with love and excitement.

Stress is defined by as “an organism’s total response to environmental demands or pressures.”  A stressor is a stimulus bringing about a reaction, and stress is an experiential response to these stimuli.  The Cleveland Clinic defines stress as the physical, mental and emotional bodily reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response.  It’s as simple as that.  So the definition of stress is all about how a person reacts to the situation at hand.  With that being said, can we control the stress in our lives?  Can we control the effects of stress in our lives?  Can we reduce our chances of illness and perhaps even early death by changing how we respond to what is around us?  The answer is a resounding yes.

One of the key ways to manage the ways we tend to the stressors in our life is through mindfulness practices.  This includes meditation, qi gong, writing, coloring, mindful walking and anything that helps us to just be solidly in the present moment.  Mindfulness simply means being aware of your body and your breath and the present moment.  That’s it!  It doesn’t have to be fancy, or on a mountain top.  Just engaging in activities that allow you to take deep breaths and slow your mind is all that it takes to stop the fight/flight mechanism and cortisol spikes that are so detrimental to our long-term wellbeing.

Naturally, acupuncture is also a wonderful tool for stress reduction.  While encouraging the body to reset and return to a more balanced state, it also allows time for a person to simply be present to the moment, their body and their breath.  As insomnia often accompanies stressful periods in our lives, acupuncture can help you sleep better, thus giving you stronger reserves to deal more appropriately with what is happening in your world.  Acupuncture can also help to calm your nervous system, aiding in a reduction of feelings of anxiety that can cloud our thinking and have us feeling less able to cope with the world around us.

The world will always throw thing at us that we don’t necessarily want to deal with.  The secret to obtaining and maintaining a strong immune system and good health overall is to learn ways to manage the world with grace and equanimity.  Acupuncture and mindfulness are wonderful tools to help us stay strong, grounded and empowered in whatever we are facing.

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Many symptoms are common, but that doesn’t mean they are normal. Premenstrual agitation, not being able to fall or stay asleep, or frequent headaches, for example, are conditions with which we learn to live. We really don’t have to have to.

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