April is National Stress Awareness month, so it makes it a perfect time to discuss stress and how to manage it! Stress gets to us all; especially in todays economic and political climate! But when stress is left to fester and is not dealt with it can cause a whole host of health issues including high blood pressure, headaches, heart disease and diabetes (just to name a few!). Some people don't even realise they are stressed as they internalise it and then it comes out in different ways (usually in some type of physical pain or ailment). Now more than ever we need to prioritise our health and do what we can to ensure we don't encounter any nasty health issues caused by stress.
Did you know that this time of year is a really common time to feel a little bit more stressed and to feel the effects of it? In Chinese Medicine, the transition from winter to spring can be quite hard on the body- it is a time where the Yin energy from winter transforms to the Yang energy of spring! Sometimes the energy can get a bit stuck in its transition and this is when symptoms occur! This time of year is a great time to get Acupuncture treatment to help with the changes... even as a one off!
In Chinese Medicine long term stress can cause our Qi (or energy) to Stagnate. Depending on which Channel in the body is affected by this Stagnation will depend on what type of symptoms you will encounter.
Stagnant Qi in the Liver channel will cause tight muscles (specifically in the neck, back and shoulders), The Liver controls emotions so you could find yourself feeling moody and irritable or depressed. You could also suffer from headaches or be easily agitated. For women, it can effect the menstrual cycle and may cause irregular periods which may come with cramps, clots in the blood, PMT and breast tenderness.
If the Qi in our Heart Channel becomes stagnant you may experience high blood pressure, palpitations or, over time, heart disease. You may also get restless and irritable.
Stagnation in the Spleen Channel will effect the digestive system and can cause issues like stomach cramps and bloating. If left for a long period of time it can weaken our digestive tract and cause issues such as constipation or diarrhoea, fatigue and a feeling of heaviness in your body.
Finally, if the Kidney Channel becomes effected it can cause issues with our reproductive system so men may get symptoms like premature ejaculation, low sex drive, male infertility or erectile dysfunction. Women can experience irregular periods, light scanty periods (or maybe no periods), and low sex drive.
Understanding where your stress is affecting can help your Acupuncture practitioner correctly treat the root cause and help reduce and eliminate your symptoms. However, if we are not working on reducing our stress outside the treatment room then your treatment results may be short lived and the symptoms may return sometime down the line. So let's look at how we can manage our stress!
Exercise! Moving your body is a great way to get that Stagnant Qi moving! It doesn't have to be anything hardcore, a walk or even doing some stretches can be enough to help that stuck Qi along. When our Qi is Stagnant it can make us just want to sit down and not do anything, but I bet you would feel better after getting up and moving your body!
Learn a calming/coping technique like meditation- this can help calm and clear your mind. You don't have to do a guided meditation if you feel it's not for you. Run a bath, sit back and try to clear your mind.
Breathing properly! Do you know that most of us don't know how to breathe correctly- crazy to think when we have been doing it all our lives! Firstly, breathing through your nose is the best way! It helps to filter the air and boosts oxygen consumption. Then focus on breathing in deeply- your stomach should move out and in; not just your chest. And remember to breathe out negative thoughts and breathe in positive ones!
Get Acupuncture! It can really help get rid of the symptoms you are experiencing by treating the root problem and relaxing your mind and body. When we are stressed we release cortisol (the stress hormone), Acupuncture has been shown to reduce these levels and to release feel good hormones like endorphins! It's all science! Your practitioner can also talk to you about ways to manage stress depending on your needs.
Talk it out. If you are feeling stressed, talk about it! Don't bottle it up- this will cause more harm than good! In most situations talking about the issue and coming up with a solution will be easier than you think and could make your life a lot easier!
Take time for you. This can be really hard depending on your situation- life can be hectic! But it is so important to find some time for you when you can. Maybe take up or try a new hobby!
Watch a comedy! This is such an easy thing to do and very enjoyable! Now, if you are like me, I love a thriller or a drama- but this will just spike our stress levels and cortisol even more! So maybe swap a few nights of watching on-the-edge thrillers for a comedy! Watching things that make us laugh can reduce stress, boost our immune system, stimulate your brain and can actually be a natural painkiller (endorphins!!).
So the next time you are feeling stressed, take a look at this list and try to incorporate some of these tips into your life. Oh... and get some Acupuncture ;-)