How Stress Affects the Body
Our bodies are hardwired to handle stress, but over time too much stress takes a toll on the body. When we feel threatened the sympathetic nervous system is activated causing the heart rate to increase, the pupils to dilate, and blood to be directed towards the extremities. Digestion can temporarily shut down. This is also known as the "fight or flight" response and is why when we are stressed, we may feel agitated or want to run away from our problems. Cortisol, sometimes called “the stress hormone”, is also released, causing increases in both blood pressure and inflammation while suppressing the immune system. If our bodies continue to experience high amounts of cortisol, symptoms can evolve into anxiety, depression, fatigue, digestive issues and tension headaches.
Stress is defined as an organism's total response to environmental demands or pressures. In a medical or biological context stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure).
Chinese Medicine for Stress Relief
In Chinese medical theory, strong emotions like stress interrupt the body’s energy from flowing smoothly. When these strong emotions are present for long periods of time they create a blockage in the body’s “road” system creating an energetic “traffic jam.” Acupuncture increases the circulation of blood and oxygenates the tissues throughout the body while cycling out cortisol and releasing natural pain-killers called endorphins. Other benefits of acupuncture include decreasing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and relaxing the muscles to help the body feel less stressed.
The traditional Chinese medicine approach is to focus on restoring the balance of energy in the body, such as soothing the liver Qi, tonifying the liver blood and spleen Qi, clearing the heat in the heart and liver, etc. A combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are generally applied and combined to treat stress; diet therapy and exercise is suggested as well.
Case Studies from AOMA professor, Dr. Yongxin Fan
Dr. Yongxin Fan has over 20 years of clinical experience in treating muscular-skeletal disorders, pain, digestive disorders, and psycho-emotional disorders including stress.
“One patient had intense stress from her job and was having insomnia. I treated her with acupuncture and the herbal formula wen dan tang. After the first treatment she was sleeping much better and after two weeks the stress was much reduced.
A patient with more severe stress symptoms (anxiety, panic attack, insomnia, and heart palpitations) recovered in 3 weeks after receiving acupuncture and taking the herbal formulas gui pi tang & huang lain e jiao tang.
Sometimes the symptoms are less severe but still can be debilitating. I had a patient who complained that ever since childhood she cried very easily, making her uncomfortable. I gave her acupuncture and Chinese herbs (xiao yao wan & gan mai da zao tang), and after 2 months she is much better.”
Chinese Herbs for Stress
The most commonly prescribed Chinese herbal formulas for stress are xiao yao wan (also known as “Free and Easy Wanderer”), gan mai da zao tang, chai hu shu gan san, yi guan jian, yue ju wan, and gui pi tang. To find out the right herbs for you, make an appointment with a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist. The practitioner will take a full medical history and do pulse and tongue diagnosis to determine the best acupuncture plan and herbal prescription.
Exercise and Diet for Stress
Exercise should be a part of everyone’s stress management plan, as it helps the body produce more endorphins, also known as the “runner’s high”. Many types of physical activity can stimulate this response and each person must find the right type of exercise for him or herself. For some, walking is enough, but others will want to get more of a workout to get their blood pumping and break a sweat.
Taiji, qigong, and meditation are forms of mind-body exercise and have been shown to help induce the “relaxation response.” The relaxation response makes the heart beat slower, muscles relax, breathing become slower, and blood pressure decrease.
As far as dietary therapy, most vegetables and fruits that are rich in color can help the body deal with stress. For example, in Chinese nutrition, blueberries, purple cabbage, beets, tomatoes, and eggplant are believed to be stress reducing. A diet high in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins B & E is recommended, as these nutrients are easily depleted by stress.
Fruits and vegetables such as apricots, asparagus, avocados, bananas, and broccoli, brown rice, dried fruit, figs, salmon, green leafy vegetables, and most rich colored fruits are high in vitamin B. Even if you eat a healthy diet, vitamin B complex is a good supplement to consider if you suffer for chronic stress.
I have twin boys, Daniel and Jack. While my smaller one, Jack, was 3 months old, he suffered from colic after breastfeeding almost once a day. When he was in pain, he would cry and his belly would be very tight to the touch. I began to massage his abdomen beside the belly button three to five times on both sides; after a minute or so of loud crying, he would gradually calm down and then immediately fall in sleep. I found this ancient massage technique to be very helpful and after about two weeks of massage combined with Chinese herbs, the colic never returned.
This technique is called “Na Du Jiao” which means “Grasping Belly Corner”, and it is one of the numerous massage techniques of Chinese Pediatric Tuina (traditional massage). Chinese Pediatric Tuina has been applied for over one thousand years in China. Its popularity has grown in the last three to four hundred years.
Pediatric massage is applied on specific points of various parts of the body, such as the face, abdomen, back and extremities depending on the disorders. Lotion can be used to protect the skin and ease the treatment. Each session lasts about 20 – 30 minutes. In most cases, the treatment should be given once a day or every other day. Since the pediatric tuina technique is very simple, parents are encouraged to learn and practice some of the major techniques, so they can repeat the treatments at home.
In Chinese medicine, children are regarded with “pure Yang constitution” which means they grow and develop fast in physique and intelligence. At the same time, they are also “young Yang and Yin constitution” meaning they have imperfect organic function and physical bodies, which is why they get sick easily, especially with digestive and respiratory problems. As a parent, it often seems that stomach aches (bloating, vomiting, nausea, constipation, diarrhea) or colds (coughing, asthma, allergies) as well as bed wetting & night time crying are ubiquitous during childhood.
Pediatric tuina is a safe manual therapy; it is gentle without side effects and great to relieve most discomforts experienced during childhood. Besides that, it is also excellent at preventing other diseases. Providing regular and simple pediatric tuina for your kids can strengthen their digestive and immune systems and support their natural body constitution. Children who have picky appetites or easily catch colds are great candidates for pediatric tuina. It is most effective for children from birth to seven years old. For older kids, acupuncture is a good combination as well. A lot of times, a Chinese herbal formula is suggested to be combined to provide even better and faster results.
Tips for a successful tuina or acupuncture treatment for your child:
Yongxin Fan, LAc
- It’s best if your child doesn’t come to his/her appointment on an empty or full stomach.
- Plan for your child to take it easy after his/her treatment.
- Sometimes after receiving an acupuncture treatment your child may feel a little lightheaded or “woozy.” If that is the case, please have him/her sit for a while in our waiting area. In a few minutes he/she will be relaxed and clear-headed.
has over 20 years of clinical experience in treating muscular-skeletal disorders, pain, digestive disorders, and psycho-emotional disorders.