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Jeff Behar

Jeff Behar

Stress Relief With Acupuncture

Monday, 21 March 2011 20:37 Published in General Health

Got stress?  The answer is probably yes to some degree or another.  Finally, the modern medical community is even recognizing the massive impact that long-term stress can have on our physical health.

To understand what stress is doing to your body, try to imagine life as it was thousands of years ago, at a time when being eaten by a rather large, hungry animal was a realistic threat.  Back then, it was critical that your ancestors had to be able to react instantly, either by fighting for their lives or by running for their lives.

As a result, we humans evolved a sophisticated Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) to automatically control our muscles and internal organ systems during varying circumstances.

The ANS is divided into two parts: the Parasympathetic Nervous System, or “rest and digest” mode, which is where our bodies are supposed to be functioning from most of the time, and the Sympathetic Nervous System, or “fight or flight” mode, which is designed to help us survive a potentially life threatening situation.

Because of the nature of that Sympathetic, “fight or flight” mode, our bodies are able to instantly respond to stressful situations, giving us a burst of strength and endurance so that we don’t become a grizzly bear’s mid-day snack:

  • Your heart rate increases along with the force of your heart muscle’s contractions, increasing the blood flow to your brain and muscles by up to 400 percent
  • The pupils of your eyes dilate
  • Your digestion stops (so it doesn’t use up energy that’s needed elsewhere)
  • Your muscle tension increases
  • Your lungs dilate, making you breathe faster and harder to bring more oxygen to your muscles
  • Your Adrenal glands go into overdrive, creating a surge of adrenaline, cortisol and epinephrine

The Sympathetic reaction is designed to keep you alive in life-threatening situations.  It’s supposed to be balanced by a subsequent return to Parasympathetic, “rest and digest” mode, which is where your body is able to repair damage, relax, digest, rejuvenate and restore normal functioning, and it worked really really well back in the caveman days,

But these days, we’re not really running from bears much anymore.

Instead, our "bears" are our non-stop, fast-paced, high-stress modern lifestyles.  Bears have now become bosses, rush-hour traffic, performance reviews, tax time and in-laws.  And rather than showing up occasionally and briefly, these stressful influences are constant and our bodies are now becoming perpetually stuck in what is referred to as “sympathetic overdrive.”

The Sympathetic Nervous System is meant to be stimulated under emergency, alarm states only, but most of us spend our lives there.  The end result is that we experience the effects of long-term, continuous stress:

  • Anxiety, depression, panic attacks, mood disorders, etc.
  • Muscle tension, pain, jaw clenching and headaches/migraines
  • Insomnia/Sleep disorders
  • Adrenal fatigue with symptoms like lack of energy, depression, decreased ability to handle stress, a compromised immune system and memory lapses
  • Type 2 Diabetes, as a result of an inability of the overworked stress hormone, Cortisol, to continue to respond appropriately to blood sugar levels.
  • Digestive disorders
  • High stress reduces the number of white blood cells in your body, reducing your immune function, making you more likely to get colds, flu’s, allergies and other diseases.
  • Increase blood pressure and the risk for stroke, heart attacks, etc.
  • Stress can throw off a woman’s reproductive system, creating menstrual irregularities, pain, heavy bleeding, continuous spotting, PMS symptoms, and infertility.  It can also lead to male infertility, diminished sexual desire and an inability to achieve orgasm.
  • Stress triggers behaviors that contribute to disease, such as smoking, alcoholism, drug abuse, and overeating.

The physical stress of sympathetic overdrive can take its toll on the body, eventually leading to into a chronic disease state.  Fortunately, though, there’s help available in the form of Acupuncture.

Acupuncture is safe and effective and can restore your body’s ability to handle the mental and physical symptoms of high stress, anxiety and depression.

Acupuncture treatments guide your body back into the much needed Parasympathetic, “rest and digest” mode by releasing your body’s own natural “feel good” chemicals from the brain, called endorphins.

These endorphins relieve pain and increase your sense of relaxation and well-being and are drop for drop more powerful than morphine.  They can give you a “natural high” similar to the feeling we have at peak experiences in our lives and are the reason behind the phenomenon known as “runner’s high.”  This is one of the reasons that acupuncture is so useful in the treatment of depression and anxiety.

The calming nature of acupuncture decreases heart rate, lowers blood pressure and encourages relaxation by loosening tight muscles. You can leave a session feeling as if you had a really good deep-tissue massage.  In addition, acupuncture improves circulation of blood throughout the body, which oxygenates the tissues and cycles out cortisol and other waste chemicals.

Acupuncture effectively helps to calm the Sympathetic Nervous System, taking you from “fight-or-flight” mode to “rest-and-relax” mode, often within minutes, and yes- even if you’re afraid of needles. Many first time, needle-phobic Acupuncture patients walk in nervous and tense, and walk out like purring kittens…happens aaaaaaaall the time.

Regular Acupuncture treatments serve to nurture and nourish the various systems of the body, which can greatly enhance the body’s ability to thrive in times of stress, aid in healing, prevent illness and increase vitality.

Originally posted on by Melanie Miller, L.Ac., MAOM, owner Turning Point Wellness, Scottsdale, Az., Visit Turning Point Wellness to contact Melanie directly and for more information about how Acupuncture, Oriental Medicine, and natural nutrition can help you achieve a greater level of wellness and vitality.

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