Stress and Anxiety in TCM
Biochemical reactions in the human body occur in response to stress and anxiety. Chemicals that are quickly released into the bloodstream set into motion certain physical changes, such as rapid heartbeat, increased breathing rate, higher blood pressure, and muscle tension. This is the classic "fight-or-flight" response, seen when the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is activated. In nature, these temporary physical changes allow the body to be stronger and more alert when called upon to protect oneself. In civilization, this response prepares one to deal with stressful events such as speaking in public, saving a drowning victim, defending oneself in a fight or fleeing an attacker. However, if the stress continually occurs, this healthy response becomes a pathological one. Resulting symptoms can be mental and emotional strain; anxiety, insomnia, exhaustion; panic attacks, dyspnea (increased breathing rate), increased heart rate, palpitations, muscle tension, pain and tremors.
Some other common symptoms of stress are headache, backache (or general aches and pains), dermatological disorders, digestive and sleep disorders, depression, poor concentration, and memory loss. There is even evidence that chronic stress can lead to such long-term health problems as hair loss, strokes, asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Studies indicate that about 60-90% of doctor visits are related to stress.
Many people resort to food when feeling stressed and anxious. Some turn to alcohol, sleeping pills or antidepressants. Antidepressants prescribed to reduce stress can deliver only limited, short-term relief and often lead to chemical dependence.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) draws a direct connection between stress, anxiety and the liver, cautioning that "disharmony of the liver is the cause of 10,000 illnesses. The reason that the liver is so important is that the function of the liver in TCM is to promote the smooth circulation of vital energy, or qi (pronounced "chee") throughout the body. When qi stagnates, blood and other body fluids lack the energy to move and can thus collect. This stagnation can even lead to the formation of masses such as breast lumps and fibroids in the uterus if left untreated. If blood stagnates in the chest, the lungs and heart will be affected.
Stress and Anxiety Relief with Traditional Chinese Medicine
Stress (ya li) causes tension buildup in the shoulders, which leads to shoulder pain, neck pain and headaches. In TCM, the gall bladder channel runs over the shoulders, up the neck and on the sides of the head. This channel is paired with the liver channel, such that stress-related problems that affect the liver often affect the gall bladder as well. The liver is the one organ capable of affecting all of the other organs.
TCM techniques such as acupuncture and acupressure can induce a relaxation response, which decreases the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, increases energy and tissue regeneration, and reduces stress. One feels more relaxed, and digestion improves. As tension is relieved, so are headaches. Instead of being tense and angry, one remains calm, tempers stay even, and blood pressure can even decrease. Studies have shown that the substances released in the body as a result of acupuncture relax the body, and also regulate serotonin in the brain, which affects emotional states.
TCM will not, of course, change the circumstances of a person's life. But it can relieve feelings of anxiety or depression. As the heavy feelings of stress are relieved, a person feels more confidence in his ability to cope with the negative aspects of life and make necessary changes. This in turn can eliminate dependence on sleeping pills, tranquilizers and antidepressants.
A medical study published in Anesthesiology (June 2003) used ear acupressure to relieve stress and anxiety in patients being transported to the hospital in ambulances. In some patients (the acupuncture group) real acupuncture points were used, while in others (the control group), bogus points were used. On arrival, the stress level in the acupuncture group decreased 66%. In contrast, the stress level in the control group increased 10%. Such studies indicate the effectiveness of acupuncture in stress treatment.
Stress and Anxiety in Western (Allopathic) Medicine
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