I’ve recently experienced a few of the most stressful weeks I’ve had in years. For the most part – although I get a lot done in a day and have a fair bit on my plate – my life is pretty relaxed. I’m an acupuncturist after all and getting acupuncture on a semi-regular basis has always helped me manage my stress levels and depression. However, this was a heightened amount of stress. It was interesting to observe what came up for me physically and emotionally as I did my best to navigate these stressors.
THE EFFECTS OF STRESS-
The quality of my sleep decreased and I noticed a huge increase in cravings for foods that are definitely less than healthy. Neither of those are terribly surprising to me. Sleep is one of my weak links physiologically and when we sleep dopamine – the feel good hormone – is replenished in the brain. When those levels are low we typically seek out other ways to bring our dopamine circuits back into. Food is one way of doing this. Typically, it’s the sugary foods – foods that I normally stay away from – that give these dopamine circuits a good turbo boost. I found myself craving sugar like it was my job and feeling insatiable when it came to consuming it.
I was starting to feel depressed.
Recently, I learned about this fascinating study in my Biopsychology of Behavior class. It showed that people who feel as if they have control over their situation did not suffer from the maladaptive effects of stress the way that people who DO NOT feel like they are in control did. What researchers found was that people who DO NOT feel like they are in control of their situation have smaller adrenal glands from an excess of the glucocorticoid hormone cortisol – a stress hormone – in their system. Bottom line, feeling a sense of control over ones situation helps reduce the effects of stress.
After about a week and a half of feeling like life was bowling me over and letting all those familiar murky feelings seep into the cracks I decided to take back my sense of control of my own life. After years of testing this hypothesis, I am clear that everything in life is about perception. I may not have much control over what is happening on the outside world but what I have complete and unequivocal control of is my emotional response to it.
Sounds great doesn’t it?
If you are anything like me, theories always sounds great…in theory…but how does that make a practical difference in my life and the lives of others?
Here’s what I did to combat the stress and get back some semblance of order in my life.1) I decided NO MORE! I chose myself over the things that were creating stress in my life. This is actually a really important point. It is challenging to choose ourselves. We hold onto so many stories around feeling selfish…I can’t choose myself, I am a good person and a good person always puts people before themselves.
ALWAYS CHOOSE YOURSELF.
2)Acupuncture and More Acupuncture! Acupuncture is outrageously effective at allowing our body to shift from the sympathetic stress response to the parasympathetic – the system responsible for rest. When we rest, we heal. When we heal our body brings itself back into homeostasis. When we are in homeostasis all things, including our hormones and brain chemicals are in balance. When our brain chemicals and hormones are in balance, we feel good, we make good choices, we sleep and we are generally happy people. Easy peasy. Knowing this I increased the amount of acupuncture I was getting.
3) Sleep Hygiene became my priority. According to Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture theory, the Liver/Gall Bladder system is the one most responsible for mediating stress. Acupuncturists have noticed a huge correlation between the Liver organ system and the Autonomic Nervous system – which includes the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems we talked about earlier. Liver/Gall Bladder time is between 11pm and 3 am, so getting to bed by 10 is one of the best things you can do for this organ pair as well as for combating the effects of stress.
If studies interest you you can also check out this study on Acupuncture’s effects on the Autonomic Nervous System.
Contributed by: Travis McIndoe -TCMP foremost Expert in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine.
Balance Point Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine
2080B Springfield Road
Kelowna, BC. V1Y 9N7