“I wish I could go back and tell myself that not only is there no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and high performance is actually improved when our lives include time for renewal, wisdom, wonder, and giving. That would have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress, burnout, and exhaustion.” -Arianna Huffington
People are more stressed today than ever. A study from the American Institute of stress in 2017 says that 63% of people are stressed about the future of our nation, 62% are stressed about money and 61% about work. Even though we are experiencing record-breaking levels of stress, many of us don’t have an understanding of what stress is, how best to deal with it, how to calm our nervous systems or reduce impending inflammation.
What is Stress?
While most people consider Stress to be something that causes discomfort or distress in the body Merriam Webster defines stress as a “constraining force or influence, such as a force exerted when one body or body part presses on, pulls on, pushes against, or tends to compress or twist another body part.” Stress is pressure or weight, a strain that may occur emotionally, mentally or physically and because it manifests differently in each of us there is no set experience of stress.
What is really happening when I am stressed?
Even though we all experience stress differently, there are some universal truths to stress in the body. One of the most devastating effects is Cortisol. You may have heard of this sneaky little hormone that can wreak havoc in your body. Cortisol itself is not terrible; when its levels are normal the body is healthy, but high levels of this stress hormone are when the body can experience pathologies. Cortisol was incredibly useful for us in Caveman days when we needed our fight-or-flight response to keep us safe from predators and in small concentrations this hormone in the bloodstream can have positive effects; such as increased immunity, stable energy, increase in pain tolerance, improved memory and overall homeostasis in the body. High Cortisol levels, along with adrenaline, perform the actions in the body that you would need if running from a predator. They increase the glucose (sugars) in the bloodstream, enhance your brain’s use of glucose and increase the availability of substances that repair tissues. Why is this bad you ask?
When fight-or-flight is on, cortisol curbs the functions of systems in the body it considers nonessential. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system as well as a drop in cognitive performance. This complicated feedback in the body also tells the brain’s natural alarm system that something is wrong, affecting mood, motivations and fear.
What side effects of stress should I know about?
Some of the most common symptoms of stress and high cortisol levels include but are not limited to:
- Digestive issues
- Heart Disease and/or increased Blood Pressure
- Weight Gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
- Blood Sugar Imbalances may lead to hyperglycemia
- Suppressed Thyroid Function
- A decrease in Bone Density
- Lowered Immunity
- Increased Belly Fat, which is linked to strokes, heart attacks and increases in HDL cholesterol
How can Chinese Medicine help?
In Chinese Medicine, one of the main objectives is to keep Qi, our vital life force moving. If the flow of Qi is smooth then the body is kept in balance. Chronic stress creates blockages, imbalances, and disharmony. The blockages others wise known as Qi Stagnation can be effectively treated with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Formulas. Acupuncture affects the central nervous system and triggers the release of endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters in the brain which function to transmit electrical signals with the nervous system. They are the brain’s natural feel-good chemicals. They reduce stress by giving us a feeling of general well being. If stress and stagnation show up in the muscular layer, one might experience; tension headaches, neck pain or tight shoulders. In this case Guasha, Moxibustion or cupping may also be used. There are many different treatment strategies that may be applied to varying stress cases. Acupuncture also affects brain waves in the same way as meditation.
Amanda’s 5 Tips To Managing Your Stress
Our bodies’ natural state is one of peace and calm, yet in this digital age, we are often sidetracked. I frequently think to myself that I need to add more, do more and accomplish more of my goals each day. If you are like me, and you wake up sensing that you do not have enough time in the day to accomplish everything, guess what you don’t! Instead of thinking about what little time you have in comparison to your list of tasks, try these simple tips to shift your brain and thoughts into a more abundant, flexible and positive state.
1. Set the tone for your day by starting the night before
• The night before, can you prepare yourself in any way for the next day, pack your lunch, lay out your work clothes and gym clothes.
2. Set your alarm 5 minutes earlier
• Give yourself a quick 5-minute meditation to start your day. Morning Meditation= morning priming. How do you want to be today? How do you want to feel? Set an intention or Emotion for the day. Emotions are just energy in motion!
3. Sign up for your daily movement in advance
• Decide where in your day you can stick in some exercise, and if possible sign up in advance to stick with your plan! Commit to your health by walking, Yoga, Hitting the Gym or even Qi Gong in the Park.
4. Make use of your lunch break
• Get a midday Acupuncture Treatment or take even just 5 minutes in nature, walk to the beach, stick your feet in the sand, do something that nourishes and comforts you.
5. End your day with peace and gratitude
• Write down 3 things you are grateful for at the end of each day. Take the time for another Meditation and Pranayama before bed. My favorite is 4-7-8, click the link below for me to guide you through a 4-minute session.