Stress is a normal physiological response triggered when we feel threatened. When we are stressed both our “fight or flight” responses and our immune systems are activated. These normal responses can be helpful as they prepare our bodies to help deal with the source of the threat. However, when we are under too much stress, or ongoing chronic stress, our stress hormones might not return to normal levels; we are then left in a permanent state of fight or flight.
When we are stressed, we often feel irritable, frustrated and angry, or anxious, afraid and depressed. Alongside these feelings, our bodies also react, causing various aches and pains anywhere in our body, or other symptoms such as insomnia or increased pre-menstrual symptoms.
In TCM, when we see patients suffering with stress, we usually diagnose “Liver qi stagnation”. In Chinese medicine, the Liver (not the same as the western medicine organ) oversees the smooth flow of qi throughout the body. Tension and stress quickly stagnates Liver qi, potentially giving rise to multiple symptoms; aches or pains that become worse for emotional tension are diagnosed as being caused by qi stagnation. Other symptoms,such as digestive issues, dizziness, insomnia, sinusitis, tiredness and even tinnitus may also be diagnosed as qi stagnation if stress makes them worse. Qi stagnation causes the pulse to feel like a tight wire, reflecting the tension in our body.
Stagnant qi can start to generate heat; a little like a pressure cooker, as the stagnant qi starts to build up heat becomes part of the picture. This heat can manifest as feeling hot and thirsty, alongside feeling more irritable and anxious. Heat will affect the tongue colour too; the tongue tip, reflecting the mind in Chinese medicine, will turn red. Alcohol and/or a diet high in rich, greasy or spicy food, makes stagnant heat production even more likely. Stagnant heat often causes restlessness, anxiety, insomnia and hypertension.
Ultimately, stress is exhausting; it depletes our qi. Usually in clinic I see patients with a combination of qi stagnation, stagnant heat and qi deficiency. Qi deficiency symptoms commonly include tiredness, shortness of breath, reduced appetite and feeling of physical weakness.
As our lives become more and more stressful, I see increasing numbers of patients suffering with stress induced conditions. As always with tcm treatment, we will diagnose the underlying tcm patterns first; how much qi stagnation is there, has it generated heat yet and how much is qi deficiency part of the picture? Acupuncture points used during the sessions include points to “calm the mind” or “lift mood”. These acupuncture points will trigger mental relaxation both during and outside the session. Patients usually sleep better after their acupuncture treatment and often tell me how overall their stress levels are reduced and resilience levels increase.
When treating stress, Chinese herbal medicines are especially useful used alongside the acupuncture treatment. Herbs, including magnolia tree bark, logan berry and wild jujube may be added to the prescription to help lift mood and calm the mind. As stress is usually ongoing there are also some useful ready-made herbal pills to help reinforce the acupuncture treatments.
At the Jade Centre we see many patients each year to help them to manage their stress. Contact us now and book an appointment to get the support you need,