How Acupuncture Helps with Stress
Stress is one of the most common reasons people come to see me at Blue Balance in Brisbane CBD. I will also include anxiety and depression under this umbrella of ‘stress’. Chronic stress is known to contribute to illnesses. You may experience a wide range of physical, emotional and behavioural changes. Acupuncture treatment can bring relief and many clients report noticing differences in:
- sleeping patterns
- sense of calmness
- improved relationships and communication
- better digestion
- more energy
- less pain
- better focus and thinking
- higher interest in doing things in general
- improved libido
While a stress response is a natural physiological process, problems arise when it continues and we end up in a state of continued or chronic stress. Research shows that acupuncture improves the body’s ability to cope with stress through improving Heart Rate Variability (HRV).
In this article I will explain:
- the role of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and the HRV
- how stress leads to illness
- what a balanced system can mean for you
The Symptoms of Stress: mental, emotion and physical.
Chinese Medicine sees the body and mind as one. Issues of physical health can effect us mentally and emotionally. Also issues with our mental and emotional health can have effects on us physically. Stress is one of the best examples to show us this interaction. It is also now widely accepted in conventional medicine that stress is a major cause of disease. In the past a major stressful concern in our life was actual survival. Our modern times offers different stressors. More commonly today our stress is of the mental and emotional variety.
Experiencing ongoing stress (physical or emotional) can lead to any of the following examples of symptoms:
- Feeling moody and easily angered or frustrated
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Having repetitive troubling thoughts
- Having poor self esteem, feelings of loneliness and depression
- Feeling anxious
- Lacking energy
- Poor sleep
- Poor digestion- constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, pain
- Heart palpitations or chest pain/tightness
- Poor immunity- frequent colds or infections
- Muscular aches, pains or shaking
- Clenched jaw
- Forgetfulness/poor memory
- Poor concentration
- Inability to foresee positive outcomes
- Reduced problem solving ability (narrow focus)
- Indulging in alcohol and drug use
- Over-eating or under-eating
- Poor choices for your health and wellbeing
- Avoiding socialising
If this situation continues it can lead to serious health issues such as:
- Cardiovascular problems which includes high blood pressure, heart disease, heart arrhythmia, heart attack and stroke
- Mental health issues including anxiety and depression
- Obesity or inability to lose weight
- Sexual dysfunction
- Menstrual irregularities
- Digestive disorders such as IBS, ulcer and reflux
- Also problems such as acne, rashes, eczema and hair loss
The Stress Response: How and Why
I have already mentioned that a stress response is a normal physical reaction to stimuli. Lets look at it more closely to see how it leads to illness.
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is made up of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The ANS regulates your body systems to maintain a certain equilibrium. Signals received from the external environment and the body cause a response from either the SNS, which releases excretory signals, or the PNS, which releases relaxation signals. So the result may be to increase the heart rate and thus raise blood pressure. Or to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure. This example leads me to something called Hear Rate Variability (HRV). Your heart rate naturally changes due to response to the environment. And your ability to cope with stress improves when you have a higher HRV.
When Life is SNS heavy
Our sympathetic nervous system is our ‘fight or flight’ responder. Our modern life of busy work, study and worry can leave us in that excitatory response, when the SNS is consistently responding to perceived threats. Almost all of these are mental and emotional. The outcome is that blood and nutrients are directed away from systems like digestion and reproduction, in favour of those that will help the fighting or the flying! Over the long term this imbalance is harmful and can lead you up to that list of illnesses above 🙁
Take a Chill Pill: the PNS
Our parasympathetic nervous system may be referred to as our ‘rest and digest’ mode. Without constant threats we can relax. Bring on the calm feelings and allow your body to process food, heal tissues and just generally be great at being a body! Truly I think the human body Is amazing! It will heal itself given the right conditions.
Measuring the Balance: HRV
Some symptoms let you know if you’re more in SNS or PNS mode but scientifically it can be measured with the heart rate variability. A high variability reflects the ease in which your body copes with changing heart rate. There is a definite correlation between a low HRV and high levels of stress. Low HRV is also seen in cases of poor physical and mental health. For instance high blood pressure, depression and anxiety.
HRV is influenced by your emotions. Spending time focusing on thoughts of compassion and gratitude will increase your HRV. While focussing on anger, frustration or despair can lower your HRV and again lead you to that list above 🙁 so if you were looking for some scientific reasons to start practicing mindfulness, this would be it!
Why Choose Acupuncture for Treating Stress
Acupuncture has been shown to have an effect on both the PNS and SNS and also the HRV. By improving the HRV it allows the body to more easily achieve balance (equilibrium).
Acupuncture has also been shown to increase the release of endorphins. Endorphins are your built-in happy hormones. They make you feel good. They also function in the regulation of physical and emotional stress responses such as pain, heart rate, blood pressure and digestive function.
Research shows that Acupuncture has a moderate, positive effect on stress response, anxiety and depression symptoms. Acupuncture works best when delivered in a course of several sessions per week to start (2 weeks) then at least weekly sessions to follow over 2-3 months. You may be amazed at the difference. Many of my clients appreciate the difference they feel after acupuncture and have regular monthly sessions just because it makes them feel good.
But now that you know how acupuncture is helping to balance your nervous system you can book in to service your SNS, PSN and HRV 😉