It’s only the end of January and many people already feel like they could use a holiday from the hustle and bustle of day to day life! One month into 2019 and stress seems to be a constant companion for many of the people I see each day.
I think that sometimes we underestimate the speed at which modern society lives life and it’s easy to feel as though every day is an obstacle course of commitments, stress and pressures that have to be either met or avoided.
Our lifestyle isn’t always easy to change and the impact of stress on our physical health is not usually a positive one – and that’s where acupuncture can be a great mitigator.
Managing stress isn’t always easy, either – especially when it’s difficult to identify that stress is a factor in your life in the first place.
I know people who tell me they become physically tense when they have to navigate the endlessly moving river of folk determinedly ploughing the shortest possible route between point A and point B in an underground station.
Many others who come to me for help say they go into physical lockdown to deal with the unending pressure and stress that comes from having to be at medical appointments or business meetings on time, to get admin done, to make the school run on time, to pay bills, to make the train, to cook a family meal.
The presence of stress and the absence of time are a potent cocktail and they produce a psychological as well as physical reaction in people.
There’s plenty of evidence out there to show the true emotional impact of stress on our emotional health. Chronic stress can lead to conditions like insomnia, anxiety disorders and digestive disorders as well as a lack of emotional self-care that we recognise as reduced interest in appearance, performance and meeting our responsibilities.
Mental stress can result in depression, mood swings, anger, frustration, confusion, paranoid behaviour, jealousy or withdrawal.
There are many studies to show that insomnia or a poor sleep routine, the most common among the symptoms of stress, have a domino effect, impinging on our performance at work and home, on our relationships with ourselves and others and on our general physical health.
Digestive health can also be affected by stress, making life physically and emotionally uncomfortable.
Pain and discomfort caused by tension are common, but stress can also compromise the immune system, making us more prone to colds and infections that we struggle to fully recover from.
It’s easy to write some of these issues off as part of the currency of our lives – the price we pay to get things done, interest paid to The Bank of the Achiever. But modern life is a pretty relentless mistress and so those otherwise trivial and transient physical and emotional problems tend to stick around either as reoccurring issues or as chronic conditions.
And what is our response to that? Well, in most cases we reach for the indigestion tablets, the aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen, chug them down with some water and crack on with being stressed. If sleep is a real issue, we might ask our doctor to prescribe sleeping pills. We guzzle Night Nurse and Day Nurse and pop multivitamins to keep that cold at bay.
And the problem with that approach is that the drugs only ever mask the real problem.
Yes, you’ll feel better for a time. But then your body metabolises the medication you’ve taken and you’re back where you started because the drugs haven’t actually dealt with the original problem – your stress.
The role of acupuncture as an antidote to modern life is so effective because it doesn’t just target the area where you feel pain or discomfort, it identifies where the problem originates and then we use that information to restore balance where it’s needed.
Through acupuncture, we can identify where the energy is out of step and the blockages that disrupt the body’s natural energy flow – or Qi – and then resolve those issues, along with the stress that caused them – in our treatment.
Acupuncture is already recognised for its effectiveness as a relaxant, but it works wonders where stress is concerned not just because it releases the body’s natural energy so you feel more in balance with yourself and your environment, but also because it improves blood flow that carries the oxygen, hormones, nutrients and natural painkillers the body needs in order to heal.
In the treatment of stress, particularly, acupuncture releases the oxytocin hormone which regulates the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is the opposite of the fight or flight response we read so much about.
Often, it’s referred to as the rest and digest or calm-connect system and it’s important because impaired function of this system has also been linked to autoimmune conditions like arthritis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
So, drugs may be a quicker and cheaper way of gaining short term relief, but in many cases they are also the very definition of the phrase false economy. At best, they simply throw a disguise over your issue.
At worst, if used improperly, some medication, such as ibuprofen, can lead to gastric problems, whilst stronger drugs which may be prescribed to you – like sleeping pills – can become highly addictive.
If you’ve got a recurring or chronic stress-related condition and the drugs don’t work – or you’re just uncomfortable about being over-reliant on them – why not book in for an acupuncture treatment? I think you’ll be amazed at the difference it could make to your life.