Acupuncture for Stress

One of acupuncture’s best kept secrets is its ability to reverse the effects of stress on your body (1-3). Although acupuncture is best known for its treatment of pain, most people experience acupuncture’s profound relaxation response, even on their first treatment.

Stress is estimated to cause of 80% of all illnesses and if stress isn’t the cause of the initial disease, it worsens whatever illnesses are already present.

Like most, you likely have experienced the effects of chronic stress—racing heart, chronic muscle tension, irritability, poor sleep, headaches, the inability to relax, anxiety and even depression.  Caring for an ill child or parent, struggling with current or past trauma, a high demand job or a job you don’t love, long work hours, raising a family, the inability to pay bills or just feeling like there are not enough hours in the day to do what you need to do—this all leads to chronic stress.  Though we’ve been told time and time again that stress is bad for our health, most of us don’t really believe just how bad chronic stress is for us. Stress is estimated to cause of 80% of all illnesses and if stress isn’t the cause of the initial disease, it worsens whatever illnesses are already present (4). When you study the science that shows how stress causes or worsens illness, it is frightening.

Stress can cause or worsen heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, migraines, infertility, anxiety, depression, insomnia, allergies, frequent colds and flu, asthma, autoimmune disease and even cancer.

Stress can be good and can help us survive in the face of life threatening situations. This “fight or flight” reaction in your body is a result of your sympathetic nervous system being activated and producing an increase in biochemical signals and hormones which prepare you to respond to danger or disaster. This fight or flight response makes your blood pressure, heart rate and respiration increase and your muscles tighten so that you can better run, fight or avoid danger. At the same time your parasympathetic or “rest and digest” portion of the nervous systems gets deactivated during stress, causing a reduction in relaxation and digestion.

For short periods of time stress is helpful and can even improve certain aspects of your immune system that might, for example, heal an injury. However, on a long term basis, stress becomes detrimental to your health because the flood of stress hormones in your body eventually begins to disrupt hormonal balance, weaken digestion, create inflammation and depress your immune system. In this way, stress can cause or worsen heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, migraines, infertility, anxiety, depression, insomnia, allergies, frequent colds and flu, asthma, autoimmune disease and even cancer.

This is one way that acupuncture is able to treat conditions such as migraines, anxiety, depression, insomnia, heart disease, high blood pressure, allergies and autoimmune disease—through its ability to reduce stress.

Luckily acupuncture can be an invaluable tool in helping you manage stress and reverse its negative health effects on your body. Most patients are surprised at how relaxed they feel during their acupuncture treatments. Many report never being able to nap during the day unless they are getting an acupuncture treatment. Others report feeling awake but relaxed “in a new way” and sleeping better that night after they get an acupuncture treatment. This is because acupuncture downregulates your sympathetic nervous system. Acupuncture takes you out of “fight or flight” mode and puts you back into “rest and digest” mode. It’s like a downshift or reset for your body. This is one way that acupuncture is able to treat conditions such as migraines, anxiety, depression, insomnia, heart disease, high blood pressure, allergies and autoimmune disease—through its ability to reduce stress.

Rather than letting stress snowball, acupuncture is the reset button that allows you to do more than survive; it allows you to thrive.

Now let’s be honest here, acupuncture can’t take away the thoughts running through your head or the external circumstances that are creating the stress in the first place, but getting acupuncture on a regular basis helps reverse the effects of stress on your body, with lasting effect. Once feeling better, many report being able to find solutions to problems that previously seemed inescapable or many find renewed ability or motivation to do things like exercise or meditation, which further improve their ability to manage stress. Rather than letting stress snowball, acupuncture is the reset button that allows you to do more than survive; it allows you to thrive.

References:

  1. Eshkevari L1, Permaul E, Mulroney SE. Acupuncture blocks cold stress-induced increases in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis in the rat. J Endocrinol. 2013 Mar 15;217(1):95-104. doi: 10.1530/JOE-12-0404.
  2. Ladan Eshkevari, Rupert Egan, Dylan Phillips, Jason Tilan, Elissa Carney, Nabil Azzam, Hakima Amri, Susan E Mulroney. Acupuncture at ST36 prevents chronic stress-induced increases in neuropeptide Y in rat. Experimental Biology and Medicine. 2012 Jan 12. Vol 237, Issue 1, pp. 18 – 23. https://doi.org/10.1258/ebm.2011.011224
  3. Park, H.J., Park, H.J., Chae, Y. et al. Effect of Acupuncture on Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Adrenal System in Maternal Separation Rats. Cell Mol Neurobiol (2011) 31: 1123. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10571-011-9718-x
  4. Friedman, M. M., Bowden, V. R., & Jones, E. G. (2003). Family nursing: Research, theory, and practice (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Pg 47
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