When stress and anxiety take over: finding calm
Are you feeling disconnected? Anxious or stressed? Finding it hard to concentrate? The past eighteen months has been filled with change and uncertainty leaving many feeling stressed, anxious, ungrounded and lacking motivation. There is a fine line between feeling motivated and overloaded, between feeling happy and emotional. Anxiety and stress are more common in recent times and is becoming a normal part of being ‘human’. There are differences in their causes, yet similar in symptoms and coping mechanisms. “I think my hormones are out of whack.” “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” “I can’t sleep!” “I’m far too busy!” “I just need to do this!” “I can’t relax!”…. are some common phrases I tend to hear. We apply so much pressure to ourselves in our daily lives that it’s physically and mentally draining.
What are the signs?
Stress and anxiety in small doses can often help us feel motivated to get things done. However, stress is often progressive and can be a constant companion. Not addressed, stress and anxiety can become a root cause to more serious health conditions, manifesting in physical symptoms of the body. Symptoms are different for everyone, but may include:
- Tension headaches and/or migraines
- Stomach pains
- Appetite changes
- Feeling run down
- Poor sleep or Insomnia can cause stress
- Racing thoughts
- Menstrual changes
- Mood swings
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle aches and pains
- Foggy headedness, forgetfulness and disorganisation
How can acupuncture help alleviate stress?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) health is dependent on qi (energy), which, when in good health, moves in a smooth and balanced way through the main fourteen meridians/channels mapped out throughout the body. When there is stress, anger, anxiety, frustration or any intense emotion it can block the free flow of energy in the body, like a traffic jam. For example, people who are very stressed often complain of upper back, shoulder and neck pain. This is because stress is causing tension in those areas, blocking the free flow of energy, causing pain and tightness often leading to headaches. By stimulating acupoints the flow of energy is increased into areas of deficiency and unblocks areas of stagnation. For the science lovers, previous research suggests that acupuncture can help regulate levels of neurotransmitters and feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine which has a knock on effect on changing the brain chemistry associated with mood disorders. Acupuncture can also help activate the relaxation response by stimulating internal opioids which in turn switches on the parasympathetic nervous system. When treating stress and/or anxiety I always encourage a holistic approach. Once symptoms settle it is looking at the tools to help prevent symptoms returning and support a healthy body, mind and emotional resilience. Acupuncture is also safe to use alongside conventional treatment and medication.
- Eating a balanced and varied diet. Remembering some will have no appetite when stressed/anxious, others will crave sweets, carbohydrates and caffeine.
- B-vitamins as these have a calming effect on the nervous system.
- Regular massage can help with muscle tension and relaxation
- Reduce alcohol intake. It can be tempting to have a drink or two when feeling stressed or anxious and often the long term effects of alcohol can aggravate your symptoms, increasing anxiety and stress. In Chinese medicine, it is said that alcohol triggers heat in the liver and can make people irritable and stressed, aggravating hot flushes or menstrual and gut issues.
- Movement – As already mentioned stress and anxiety can lead to a stagnation of energy and blood. Getting out for a gentle walk, aerobics, rebounding exercise, yoga, mindful movement even for 20 minutes can change how you feel.
- Spending time in naturefor its grounding properties. Sunshine can also help boost vitamin D levels.
- Journaling – Writing down your worries can help you identify triggers and become familiar with patterns and how you respond, your ‘inner critic’ and the emotions you are feeling. You may also wish to write down 3 things you are grateful for at the end of each day before you go to sleep.
- Meditation & breathing practices – Every area of life is affected by how you breathe, from physical and mental health to emotional balance and well-being.
- Technology – Limiting screen time, especially before bed can help improve your quality of sleep.
Most importantly be gentle on yourself. Know you are not alone and that you are supported.