Stress, like death and taxes, is one of the inevitable truths of life. Everyone at one point or another deals with some level of stress, and if not dealt with properly it can have a wide range of negative effects in your life. Physically, your body responds to stress by elevating your heart rate and increasing your breathing, which provides more oxygen to your brain so that you can deal with whatever problem is triggering your reaction. In the short term, a stress response is beneficial and even necessary for survival in many regards. However, chronic stress- meaning stress that is present on a daily basis- can be very detrimental 1.
Chronic stress can develop into mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety; it can cause irritability and mood swings; fatigue; insomnia; and problems with cognition (inability to focus, difficulty remembering things, etc.). Unhealthy responses to stress, like overeating or drug and alcohol abuse, can create myriad other health problems as well. Because your cardiovascular system is not designed to function at a constant high-alert level, stress over time can lead to heart attack, high blood pressure, or stroke. Stress also can make it extremely hard to gain or lose weight, and has even been linked to type 2 diabetes 2.
In women, constant stress can lead to a disruption of the menstrual cycle, and both sexes may experience a decrease in libido. Stress can also interfere with the efficacy of your immune system during long-term exposure and can make your body more susceptible to infections, inflammation, and viruses. If you are diagnosed with a condition like fibromyalgia, stress can have a huge effect of the severity and frequency of your symptoms.
Acupuncture for Stress Management
Acupuncture is a therapy taken from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that involves the needling of specific sites around the body, called Acupoints or meridians. Stimulation of these sites encourages the body’s natural healing mechanisms and is effective in treating a wide range of conditions and complaints, including stress 3.
One of the biggest ways that acupuncture can help treat stress is through increased production of the neurotransmitter Serotonin, which is an important tool in regulating your moods. Acupuncture also encourages the release of Endorphins in the body, which are a natural painkiller and mood-booster; endorphins ease muscle aches and release tension throughout the body, inducing a feeling of deep relaxation. Acupuncture has also been shown to inhibit the body’s production of stress hormones 4. Evidence suggests that this is because acupuncture is stimulating the same nerve pathways that are used to communicate stress responses throughout the body 5, and helping to deactivate the areas of the brain that are linked with analytical thought and worrying 6.
Acupuncture is also known to increase circulation in the body. This is beneficial in treating stress because it helps to cycle the stress hormone cortisol out of the body. Increased circulation also takes a lot of the pressure off of the heart and cardiovascular system in general, which not only decreases the sensation of stress but helps prevent other serious health problems like heart attack or stroke 7.
If acupuncture sounds like a solution to help manage your stress, talk with your acupuncturist today and find out how you can take control of your health and emotional well-being with a customized treatment plan.