You often hear that stress is one of the biggest killers in our modern society. And at Rocky Coast Family Acupuncture, lots of patients come into the clinic to get acupuncture for stress and stress-related symptoms.
But how does Traditional Chinese Medicine approach stress? We sat down for a few minutes to ask Jason Stein, the co-founder of Rocky Coast Family Acupuncture.
“It all starts from the foundation that the qi needs to flow smoothly and freely like a river. When it slows down or becomes stagnant, we don’t feel as good, whether it’s physically, emotionally or mentally.
“I always think of the rocks that fall into the river and create stagnant pools. The same can happen in the body, when enough stressors, whether it be emotional repression, learned behaviour, genetics, food, or physical trauma, enter into the body, the chi doesn’t flow smoothly and we begin to feel out of balance.
“I’ve noticed this more and more over the past couple of years. And this is how the conversation goes. A client will say, “I have all these symptoms of stress. I haven’t been sleeping or I’ve had so much pain. Then I go on vacation, and my joint pain is totally gone.”
“So many people notice that when they’re out of their grind, that their symptoms get better. Then they come back into their lifestyle, and surprise they become symptomatic again.
“To me that’s the power of stress and the way it impacts their body. In one way it’s frustrating because people wonder if it’s their own fault that they have anxiety and other problems. But there’s a lot of information today being gleaned about how stress can be impacted on every level.
“I’ve noticed it myself. How do you bring that peaceful feeling into your daily life — the feeling you have when you’re on vacation?”
So how can people deal with stress better?
“There needs to be some sort of daily meditation. Even if it’s ten minutes a day, of deep breathing, or listening to relaxing music.
“I had one client who said that even when he’s at a red light, he’ll take four deep conscientious breaths. Because if we don’t connect in that way and slow it down, then we are always living in this flight or fight response and the sympathetic nervous system is engaged.
“The effects are horrible — elevated cortisol, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and over time it’s almost like your body forgets how to calm down and relax.
“I think we may be the most stressed we’ve ever been. We have a natural evolutionary way of responding to stress like being chased by a lion, survival, like being exposed to cold weather or not having enough food. This stress response is meant to kick in in situations that we haven’t been exposed to.
But in our crazy modern day society we’re having the same response to stress when someone cuts us off on the highway or sends us an email that upsets us. So we’re engaging in this stress response in often insignificant and mundane situations.”
How does acupuncture treat stress? Does acupuncture for stress work?
“I always separate this in two ways.
“From a western perspective, acupuncture downregulates the central nervous system. It turns on the parasympathetic nervous system, which is rest and digest. It also deactivates the medulla in the brain. This is amazing because obviously the Chinese didn’t know what the brain looked like when people got acupuncture thousands of years ago. But the medulla is the part of the brain that assesses threat — like a car cuts you off on the road, or you’re in a dangerous situation. But it’s like a muscle and we’re constantly applying fear or threat to things that aren’t necessarily fearful. So the medulla starts firing off for things like not finding your shoes when you have to go to work.
“Acupuncture actually deactivates the medulla so that you have more control with the cerebral cortex, and you have more control in your thought process in terms of overriding that primal threat of fear or dangerous situation.
“Acupuncture also boosts your endorphins, which helps us calm our bodies and minds.
“Now, from a Chinese perspective, acupuncture helps move the chi. When we’re feeling good, when the meridians are feeding the organ systems, we’re feeling good. When there’s this stagnation and pooling of energy and slowdown, then we’re feeling anxious, weepy, out of balance, and lost. So acupuncture helps remind the body of how to flow freely and smoothly by adjusting how the chi flows. And then we use the needles to push the chi around.”
What does a normal acupuncture for stress treatment look like?
“First, we begin to identify what’s going on in the body. You don’t just have someone that comes in for stress and you give them a normal set of acupuncture points. Rather, we do the treatment based on how the stress manifests in their lives and any physical symptoms that come along with them. Is the stress affecting their blood pressure, sleep, or causing anxiety?
“We ask what the tongue shows and what the pulse feels like. We use all of our diagnostic tools to assess the situation. And then we pick the acupuncture points accordingly to match.
“For example, if our diagnostic tools show that there is a problem with the liver, which results in joint pain, headaches, anger, then we’d use acupuncture points that address the liver imbalance. For liver problems, the pulse can feel like a guitar string, or the tongue could be peeled or shiny on the side.
“Or if someone has stress in the spleen, and their symptoms are more towards worry and overthinking and digestive problems, then you’d address those imbalances. With spleen problems, the pulse can be slippery and soft. The tongue can be swollen and have a thick coating.”
What about treating stress with herbs?
“I like to see how the acupuncture for stress treatment goes first, and then wait a few sessions before using herbs. But if it’s a really intense case, then we use herbs right away. We use herbs like we use acupuncture, addressing specific types of stress, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
“If you combine acupuncture, diet and meditation, for example, yoga, pilates, anything that kind of slows you down, reading a good book or listening to relaxing music, then acupuncture for stress is really effective.”