Stress, Anxiety and Drepression
What is stress? Stress is how you feel when you are under pressure. Stress in itself is not an illness. Stress is a normal reaction. It increases our awareness, gives us motivation and the energy we need to get out of a difficult situation eg to avoid getting run over when crossing the road. Stress only becomes a problem when the demands or pressure placed upon us are prolonged or exceed our ability to cope with them. There are many causes of stress, including money or work issues, relationship problems, moving home or bereavement.
Stress is a common problem. Research indicates that one in 6 of us suffer from stress related symptoms. Many health problems are stress related.
Symptoms of stress may be emotional, psychological or physical.
Common emotional and psychological symptoms include irritability, anger, depression, anxiety, tearfulness, changes in behaviour, appetite changes, poor concentration, insomnia and fatigue
Physical symptoms may include chest pain, breathlessness, feeling restless, constipation or diarrhoea, IBS, muscle aches and pains, loss of sex drive, dizziness.
The long term effects of stress can be serious including anxiety and depression, chronic insomnia, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, stomach ulcers, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease and stroke.
What happens when we get stressed? When we are stressed our sympathetic nervous system (our ‘fright and flight’ response) is stimulated. Our body’s energy is diverted away from everyday maintenance functions, digesting food etc, and diverted to our nerves and muscles so we are ready ‘to fight’. Good health requires a smooth flow of energy around the body. When we are stressed this natural flow of energy around the body is impaired and our energy tends to rise up, leading to headaches, irritability and muscle and shoulder tension. Our circulatory system (of blood vessels) is constricted leading to an increase in blood pressure (hypertension) and reduction in the supply of nutrients and oxygen to the tissues.
Acupuncture for Stress
Acupuncture is a holistic medicine. It is very effective for treating stress and stress related conditions because it treats the mind as well as the body, and helps treat the root cause of the problem as well as the symptoms. Acupuncture works by stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system, which opposes the activity of our sympathetic nervous system (our ‘fight and flight’ response). Acupuncture also influences the production of the body’s communication substances – hormones and neurotransmitters, activating our self-regulating mechanisms, stimulating natural healing and promoting physical and emotional wellbeing.
Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress.
Acupuncture treatments for stress related conditions usually include massage of your body or face to aid relaxation. Many patients who first have acupuncture for a non-stress related condition, such as an ankle sprain, are amazed at how much acupuncture reduces their stress levels and increases their feelings of calm, control and wellbeing.
Judy Bowen-Jones Lic Ac BSc MBAcC
Acupuncture for Depression
Depression affects two thirds of us at some point in life. Symptoms may include low mood, loss of motivation, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep problems, appetite or weight changes, tiredness, loss of libido, physical pain or suicidal thoughts. Depression is believed to be due to a combination of genetic, environmental, physiological and psychological factors.
Acupuncture may help depression by:
• Altering the brain’s mood chemistry
• Increasing production of natural endorphins
• Producing other neurochemical messenger molecules which promote physical and emotional
• Affecting brain function
Acupuncture can be safely used alongside medicines such as anti-depressants, helping to reduce their side effects and enhancing their beneficial effects.
Acupuncture for Anxiety
Anxiety disorders include general anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Emotional symptoms include worry, insomnia, irritability and poor concentration
Physical symptoms may include sweating, nausea, diarrhoea, dry mouth, palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, cold hands, muscle tension and aches, trembling and twitching.
Conventional treatments include a range of medications, psychological and cognitive behavioural therapy and applied relaxation.
Acupuncture research for anxiety disorder is limited. But there is some evidence for the benefits of acupuncture for chronic anxiety associated with PTSD, substance misuse, eating disorders, hyperventilation, asthma, insomnia, post-stroke and musculo-skeletal pain.
Research suggests that acupuncture may specifically benefit anxiety sufferers by:
• Acting on areas of the brain which reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, promoting relaxation and deactivating our ‘analytical brain’ which
is responsible for anxiety and worry
• Regulating levels of neurotransmitters which alter the brain’s mood chemistry to help combat negative anxiety
• Activating the parasympathetic nervous system which opposes the sympathetic nervous system (‘fight and flight’ stress response)
• Reversing stress induced changes in behaviour and biochemistry
In the UK we have a tendency to hide our emotions or to reproach ourselves for feeling emotional. It is normal to experience and show emotions. We are emotional beings. It is appropriate to feel angry when cheated or to feel sadness and grief when we lose a loved one. Everyone experiences a low mood or stress from time to time. But if your feelings are interfering with your daily life or affecting your health, it is important to seek professional help.
British Acupuncture Council 2011
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