Can Acupuncture Help with Stress?

We all have our own ways of dealing with stress – binging Netflix, going for a run, eating tons of junk food.  While these are all ways that people cope with stress, acupuncture offers a great alternative to keep those stress levels under control (although we’d never tell you to skip the latest Netflix!).  

Stress is not just mental – it also has tons of physical manifestations.  Stress can cause headaches and neck and shoulder tensions, as well as shortness of breath and heart palpitations.  It can also cause issues with the digestive system, such as acid reflux and bloating after eating. Given that it causes body and organ functions to become less effective, stress can be a major cause of illnesses and reduce overall health immunity.  From a TCM perspective, stress reduces the smooth flow of qi, which causes that vital energy to become stagnant.  When stress is not treated, and the flow of qi is blocked, the mind can overact – even further increasing stress!

Stressful situations occur every day, both at home and at work.  It’s up to us to take care to manage the effects stress has on us and to avoid these physical repercussions. Finding ways to move through stressful situations with your head above the water is sometimes difficult, but essential to avoid any of the harmful effects stress can create when it overwhelms. It is how we manage its effect on us that makes the difference. Acupuncture is one way to help alleviate stress on our body, mind, and spirit. 

First, acupuncture works by causing an almost immediate release of endorphins. The primary focus, though, is on the liver, which is the organ system most vulnerable to the effects of stress – the liver is responsible for the flow of qi throughout the body, and acupuncture can restore this flow of qi that is impeded by undue stress. There are also points on the body used in acupuncture to calm both the mind and spirit. In particular, points on the heart channel are used to alleviate the impact of stress, which in turn prevents and soothes anxiety and sleep issues. 

Acupuncturists are also able to differentiate between acute and chronic stress.  For acute stress, we focus on soothing the liver and its channel to prevent further harm from the events of stress. For chronic stress, we focus on treating the digestive disorders, pain issues, and gynecological issues that result from chronic stress. Through TCM, we focus not only on treating the symptoms, but on diagnosing the root causes and help alleviate the impacts of stress in the future.

While we recommend seeing a TCM licensed acupuncture for the best results, there are also acupressure techniques that you can practice at home.  For instance, if you are dealing with stress-induced headaches, we suggest pressing on the soft, fleshy part of the hand between the thumb and index finger.  In addition, it can help to massage your Tai Yang temple points which are the points on the sides of your face between your forehead and ear or have someone massage your upper shoulders (you can tell them it's the acupuncturist's orders!). 

Of course, acupuncture isn’t the only potential solution. There are also herbal formulas that help soothe the liver, move qi, and restore health. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and tai chi can also help reduce stress – in addition to healthy eating and plenty of restful sleep.

Coping with stress can be tricky given our modern lifestyles. However, TCM offers an alternative, holistic way of dealing with stress, treating its physical effects and addressing the root causes, allowing us to find the balance needed in this fast-paced world we all live in. 

What is stress from a TCM perspective?

From a TCM perspective, as far as I know, stress is defined as we all pretty much know it to be. The difference is in how it is treated in the TCM paradigm (answered below)

What are symptoms of stress? 

Headache, neck and shoulder tension, possibly leading to anxiety with shortness of breath and heart palpitations, as well as effects on the digestive system such as acid reflux, bloating after eating, etc.


Why is having too much stress not good for the body, mind, spirit?

Stress is a major cause of many illnesses because it can eventually cause body and organ functions to become less effective in their functions. It can reduce immunity, as well. It reduces the smooth flow of qi eventually causing stagnation of that vital energy. The body depends on the smooth flow of qi in order to function properly and maintain balance. When stress is left unmanaged or untreated, and things start to go wrong, the mind can overreact which has a negative effect on spirit, as well. 

 

Isn’t some stress a good thing? Keeps us alert? Motivates?

Stressful environments and situations can occur around each of us every day. It is how we manage its effect on us that makes the difference. Finding ways to move through stressful situations with your head above the water is sometimes difficult, but essential to avoid any of the harmful effects stress can create when it overwhelms.


How does acupuncture work to relieve stress? 

Acupuncture reduces stress almost immediately by causing an endorphin release, but the focus of most acupuncture treatments is on the Liver and its channel as the organ first and most vulnerable to the effects of stress. The liver is responsible for the smooth flow of qi throughout the body and stress can disrupt that flow causing other symptoms, as noted above. Left untreated, an overstressed liver and disrupted qi flow can negatively affect the digestive system causing problems there, as well. There are also points on the body specifically used to calm the mind and spirit. Acupuncture points on the heart channel can be used to soften the effects of stress on the mind and spirit, dealing with and preventing anxiety and sleep issues.


Are both chronic stress vs. acute stress treated differently?

Naturally, acute stress is dealt with using points to calm and others to soothe the liver to reduce symptoms and prevent further harm from the effects of stress. Chronic stress leads to so many other issues such as digestive disorders, pain issues, and gynecological issues which are then all treated with TCM where we treat the symptoms and the root causes. Lifestyle must also be addressed to prevent stress from becoming less manageable. 


Besides acupuncture, what are other TCM treatments we would offer someone?

There are herbal formulas that help soothe the liver, move qi and restore health. Of course, the effects of stress can involve qi, blood, yin, yang, “fire” and wind that can result in tremors.

Are there acupressure points someone can do on their own to help relieve stress?

If headaches are involved, pressing on the soft fleshy part of the hand between the thumb and index finger can help. Gently massaging the temples and having someone massage the upper shoulders also helps as stress is so often carried up there.


Besides TCM, what are other activities someone can do on their own to help reduce stress?

Stress management is a very topical issue these days and there are several ways to do this, including meditation, deep breathing, exercise, yoga, tai chi and qi gong. Healthy eating and plenty of good sleep are also recommended.


Resource: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32701984/



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