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Acupuncture and Stress

One of the most common reasons people receive acupuncture is stress or stress related illness. Whether it is muscle tightness and pain, insomnia, gastrointestinal/digestive issues, or anxious or depressive symptoms, it often comes back to stress.

Living in a society that merits us based on our productivity and ability to ‘grind’ through copious work hours is a magnet for stress. How many people do you know that truly enjoy their day job? Or people who feel they have enough free time to spend with family or practicing hobbies? Chances are, you know a lot of people who are overworked, underpaid, and stressed; you might even be one of them!

Are You Living With Chronic Stress?

A lot of Canadians are stressed! A 2014 study done by Statistics Canada says that “23.0% of Canadians aged 15 and older (6.7 million people) reported that most days were ‘quite a bit’ or ‘extremely stressful’”. Chronic stress undeniably has a major impact on the body; this means there are a lot of people experiencing health problems as a result.

Chronic stress contributes to:

⦁ skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne
⦁ pain (especially neck/shoulder tension and headaches)
⦁ mental emotional concerns such as depression and anxiety
⦁ insomnia
⦁ metabolic and hormonal disorders like hypo/hyperthyroidism and type 2 diabetes
⦁ cardiovascular disease
⦁ gastrointestinal issues such as IBS, colitis, GERD, and leaky gut
⦁ a weakened immune system that leads to frequent colds, low energy, consistent flu symptoms, and repeated urinary tract or yeast infections

But why does stress have such a profound impact on the body? You’ve probably heard the terms ‘sympathetic’ (aka fight or flight) and ‘parasympathetic’ (aka rest and digest) in relation to the nervous system. These are the two different ‘modes’ that your autonomic nervous system switches between, based on your current surroundings and activities.

In a healthy state, your body is able to move fluidly between these two states as dictated by your current surroundings, and therefore neither of the systems is overworked. However, when subjected to chronic stress it can mean the body stays in the Sympathetic mode for too long, which can have a big negative impact on long term health.

Sympathetic Nervous System aka ‘Fight or Flight’

This is the mode your nervous system switches to when you need to be active, fast, or are faced with danger. Your body will be more alert, as the blood rushes to your limbs so that you can move quickly in situations where the best response is ‘flight’. This will also cause your body to release adrenaline, making you more alert and ready to react.

As you can see from the diagram, being in a Sympathetic mode accelerates heartbeat, inhibits peristalsis (which is the natural movements of the digestive tract as it shuffles along the food you’ve eaten to be digested and eventually excreted), stimulates glucose production and release, and promotes the secretion of adrenaline and noradrenaline.

Parasympathetic Nervous System or ‘Rest and Digest’

This is the mode your body should be in when you are at rest, sitting to eat a meal, and sleeping. Your blood stays mostly in the torso, warming and supporting the abdominal organs as they digest your food. Your breathing is slowed and muscles relaxed.

In the Parasympathetic mode, your entire system is working together to make sure the body is relaxed and ready to digest food. Your saliva is flowing, filled with enzymes that help start breaking food down starting in the mouth, bile is ready to be released from your gallbladder, and peristalsis is stimulated; this is a perfect recipe for healthy digestion.

Chronic stress happens when we exist in a space that puts us in Sympathetic mode too often. In the modern world, this is usually a mental or emotional stress rather than a physical one. Working long hours or in a high pressure environment, or not being treated well and facing conflict in your work or home life can all contribute to this problem.

So, How Does Acupuncture Help?

When you receive acupuncture, it starts a chain reaction in the body that results in the release of serotonin, endorphins, and GABA to name a few. Serotonin and GABA are two of the main neurochemicals that keep the brain happy, relaxed, and able to handle stress in a healthy way. Endorphins help your body manage pain and stress.

This means that acupuncture also helps the body switch from fight or flight to rest and digest. Being able to turn off Sympathetic mode, even just for the space of a treatment, is enormously helpful. It gives your body a chance to rest, heal, and recover from the effects of chronic stress.

Not only that, but it helps teach the body to switch to Parasympathetic mode more often, and, after receiving regular acupuncture, most patients report that they find stress in their day to day life easier to manage, even if the stressors themselves didn’t change or decrease.

What should you do next?

After deciding that you want to receive acupuncture treatments for stress, the next step is to reach out and book an appointment! During your first treatment, the acupuncturist will go through your health history with you to find out about your concerns and what might be causing your symptoms. They will work with you to come up with a treatment plan that fits your unique needs. After that, the only thing left is to begin your treatments and help you get relief.

If you have any questions or are interested in booking a no-obligation 20 minute free consultation with one of our practitioners, you can contact us or book online. Curious about what else acupuncture can help you with? Find more topics we’ve covered here.