Written by Dr. Kate Zouev
Acupuncture for stress relief
We all feel stressed at one point or another. As women, we have a lot on our plates and balancing work, friends, partners, and kids can be an entirely stress-inducing experience. Things like work deadlines, relationship problems, moving house, financial worries, a big pimple the day of an important event…these all evoke a panic that can linger for hours if not days. Sometimes the stress isn’t circumstantial and becomes a kind of background feeling that eventually feels normal. This is a sign that perhaps we need to re-evaluate how we are spending our lives.
What actually is ‘stress’? Well, it can be simply defined as your body’s response to a demand. We’ve all heard about the fight or flight response and how our body responds by sweating, rapidly breathing, increased heart rate and dry mouth. Some stress is actually positive. This type of stress is called Eustress and it is a response in our body helping us to gear up for an event or an exam or if you’re an athlete, a big competition. This type of stress helps us and even motivates us.
But what about when the stress is persistent, overwhelming and affects our sleep leading to insomnia? This can be a sign that some stress reduction techniques are vitally important and our body is not coping. When we are exposed to stress over the long term, the high levels of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline can lead to increased risk of obesity, heart disease, elevated blood pressure, depression and lowered immune function. In the long term, it pays to get on top of stress early.
So what can we do to lower stress and ward off those illnesses associated with increased cortisol and adrenaline levels? The good news is – plenty of things. Walking the dog or even just patting a dog or cat can lower our stress hormones. Going for a walk in nature, playing sport or exercising both help to lower stress as well. Getting a massage, having a bath, listening to our favourite music, spending time with friends or loved ones can do the trick too.
Another proven way of lowering our stress levels is acupuncture. Among acupunctures long list of health benefits its ability to potentially lower chronic stress. How does it do this? From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, the main organ system affected by stress is the liver and the liver is responsible for the smooth free-flow of qi or energy in the body. So when we have a blockage, or stagnation, this can affect other organ systems in the body, resulting in what we refer to as ‘liver qi stagnation. With acupuncture, we can clear stagnation in the liver and also calm the mind using a series of points indicated for this TCM pattern.
From a Western medicine perspective, acupuncture has been shown to reduce stress-related hormones. The Journal of Endocrinology published a study in 2013 detailing the results of a study on rats at Georgetown University Medical centre, showing that rats who endured stress conditions and then received acupuncture had lowered blood hormone levels of NPY, a peptide secreted by the sympathetic nervous system. The author, Eshkevari, found that electro-acupuncture in this study blocked the chronic, stress-induced elevations of hormones and the sympathetic pathway.
When it comes to stress-relief, there are few more enjoyable things then laying in a bed of soft towels, breathing in lavender and listing to soothing music while acupuncture needles do all the work. While a walk in the park and coffee with friends are fabulous options too, acupuncture presents an ideal opportunity to switch off and focus inward.
Eshkevari J, Permaul E, Mulroney SE. (2013). Acupuncture blocks cold stress-induced increases in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis in the rat. Journal of Endocrinology, 217(1):95-104. doi: 10.1530/JOE-12-0404. Print 2013 Apr.