The STRESS BUSTER
Kath Bartlett, LAc practices
at the Asheville Center for Chinese Medicine, located in
downtown Asheville. Kath is a nationally certified Diplomate
of Acupuncture and Herbology. She received a Master's of
Science in Traditional Oriental Medicine from the prestigious,
Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. She has completed
advanced studies in the classic Chinese medical texts of
Herbology and Oriental medical theory with Dr. Min Fan,
formally of Beijing University. Kath can be contacted for
acupuncture treatments or herbal and dietary consultations
at Asheville Center for Chinese Medicine at 828/258-2777
Stress. We all have it. The question is, "How do we
get rid of it?!"
The answer lies partly in eliminating the causes, but also
in learning to manage life's curveballs. Acupuncture and
Chinese herbal medicine are useful in the management end.
Lifestyle counseling can help with the causes. How can acupuncture
help, and what can you do stop stress in its tracks?
Before answering that question, let's look at what happens when
we get stressed. Mostly, we tense up. This tightening causes our
qi to get stuck. It's qi that mobilizes our arms and legs to move,
our stomach to digest food, our heart to pump and blood to flow.
Without qi, we're dead, lifeless.
When qi gets stuck, it builds up, and eventually it needs an
escape valve. We might get angry and have outbursts. When qi in
the stomach gets stuck, we have digestive problems, like acid
regurgitation, or heartburn (qi is stuck, and can't flow down,
so it escapes up and out the mouth). Some people get bowel problems,
like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) because this stuck qi cannot
move food through the intestines properly. Did you ever get angry
and feel qi rising to your head (maybe you got warm)? This happens
because the stuck qi builds up, and then has to get released.
It goes up to the head, and can cause migraine or tension headaches,
and high blood pressure.
Acupuncture effectively treats disorders caused by stress, by
unblocking stuck qi, allowing it to flow properly throughout the
body, and we feel more relaxed. Then food is digested smoothly
and moves through the bowels properly. As our tension is relieved,
so are the headaches. Instead of being so tense and angry that
our blood pressure starts to rise, we remain calm and our blood
pressure and our tempers stay even.
A new patient of mine came to me for treatment of knee pain from
an old injury. During the initial intake, I discovered that he
had acid regurgitation (heartburn) that is clearly worse with
stress and spicy food. He told me that his whole abdomen felt
large and full after meals (qi is not moving, building up in the
stomach). He also had neck and back pain. I used acupuncture points
that move qi in the stomach, and clear heat (for the burning regurgitation),
and local points for the back, neck and knee pain. I did tui-na,
a Chinese style of massage developed to move qi. I also prescribed
herbs that he cooked and drank twice a day as a tea. After just
three treatments, his stomach problem was nearly resolved, and
he felt much less tense and worried. He no longer has back or
neck pain, and his knee was much improved. Every person responds
differently to acupuncture, but this case shows how well stress
related problems are treated with acupuncture. When problems linger,
then more lifestyle changes are needed.
Stress is our internal response to outside stimuli. By modifying
the way we respond and react to external triggers, and the way
we live, we can make a great impact to improving health problems
caused by stress. Here are 10 things you can do change your response
and eliminate stress.
1) Walk away from it. Walking is a great way to move qi, so it
doesn't get stuck. When you have a problem that is making you
tense, go take a walk. Get your qi moving. Sometimes while you're
walking you'll see a new way to solve the problem. Or, some how
in the fresh air, it just doesn't seem so bad, and you'll relax.
2) Exercise regularly. Doing regular exercise will move qi and
relieve stress. This could include special Chinese exercises specifically
designed to move qi, like Tai Qi, or Qi Gong, but any exercise
will work. Swimming, biking, hiking or paddling, it doesn't matter,
so long as you're moving.
3) Breathe. When life gets overwhelming, take a deep breath,
and then slowly release it. Then another, and one more. Keep going,
watching the breath, as it comes in, and as it goes out. I strongly
recommend meditation as a stress reduction technique. Meditation
requires you to focus on something other than your problems, like
your breath, relaxing music or guided imagery. By doing this,
you get your mind off your troubles, and when you come back they
just don't seem so bad. People with regular meditation practices
consistently report that they are calmer and less reactive to
4) Eat in a calm, relaxed environment. Eating on the run can
cause digestive problems. Take time to chew thoroughly, taste
and smell the aromas. Don't eat and work. Take a break, relax
and enjoy your meal. I put my eating table by a window with a
bird feeder outside. So I sit at the table and watch the birds.
It's a fantastic stress-buster.
5) Do one thing at a time. Resist multi-tasking. Trying to do
to many things simultaneously inherently causes tension. Prioritize,
and then calmly and efficiently go down the list.
6) Shorten the list. When you're overwhelmed because of too many
to-do's, cross some off the list. Taxes can be extended, deadlines
can be post-phoned, and some things will just have to wait.
7) Get help. Often we feel there's just too much to do, and not
enough hours in the day. When that happens, don't try to be superwoman
(man). Let people know that your plate is overflowing, and enlist
aid to get the must-do's done. This may include hiring personal
services, like tax accountants, housecleaning or gardening. Or
delegating at work. Often people around us are not aware that
we need help because we're not telling them that we do.
8) Attend to your financial health. Financial stress can be insidious,
affecting our emotions, sleep and physical well-being. Work out
a budget to manage your expenses so that you know what your bills
total and how you will pay them. If your income fluxuates, be
sure you are saving enough during the higher months to cover the
lean ones. Make sure your nest egg is large enough to cover unexpected
expenses, or sudden changes in employment (this is usually 8 months
expenses kept in cash in the bank). Having a plan and knowing
that you are in control of your finances can go a long way towards
relieving this kind of pressure.
9) Laugh. Laughter is the best medicine, and there's nothing
like a good laugh to break the tension. Go to a comedy club, or
rent a funny movie, and laugh long and hard. You'll find some
of your troubles will melt away.
10) Have fun. What's life but to be enjoyed? When you troubles
are mounting, go do something you love. It's hard to be tense
when you're enjoying yourself. So whether it's dinner with friends,
watching a favorite movie, or a bubble bath, remember to make
fun part of your routine.