A few days ago I got this email that gave a great depiction of how stress impacts out bodies:
A teacher walked confidently around a classroom explaining stress management to an audience while holding up a glass of water. Everyone thought she was going to ask the ultimate question: “is it half full or half empty?” but she fooled them all, instead she asked “How heavy is this glass of water?”
Answers shouted out from around the room ranged from 8oz to 20oz, to which she replied “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance. In each case it’s the same weight but the longer we hold it, the heavier it becomes. And this is the same way with stress; if we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later the burden becomes increasingly heavy and we cannot carry on.”
This is a great example of how stress can impact the body, of how it can quite literally make the body seize. And when the body seizes, so does the mind, which in turn affects the body and a terrible cycle begins. A little bit of stress can be a trigger for us to re-evaluate the work load we are taking on, to change something that is not working right, to be aware of the potential impacts of a certain decision. Taking on a lot of stress or letting a situation become more stressful than it needs to be is constricting: our muscles and vessels become tense, using a lot of energy and disallowing our blood and energy to nourish, heal and detoxify our systems, often resulting in regular cycles becoming irregular. Not only that, but when our bodies are constricted, it automatically constricts and depletes the mind resulting in a poor decision making process, and ultimately exacerbating stress- and over time resulting in anxiety, depression, a quick temper and irritability.According to western medicine, our bodies are controlled through different systems: the digestive system, circulatory system, nervous system, endocrine system, reproductive system, respiratory system, immune system, lymphatic system, muscular system, skeletal system, and urinary system. All of these systems function through regular cycles. The constricting nature of stress causes these systems to not function to the best of their abilities, causing irregularities in their processes.
The impact of stress is often seen more readily in women because of their obvious monthly cycles. According to Maciocia, “emotional stress influences menstruation by affecting the movement of Blood by Qi. In fact, the first effect of emotional stress is to impair or alter the circulation of Qi by depleting it, making it stagnant or making it rebellious. Each of these pathologies will affect Blood, which follows Qi and becomes deficient, stagnant or rebellious.” This often results in irregular and painful menstrual cycles.
Sometimes the way to combat stress is just an awareness of it, of how and when it comes and being able to let it go or otherwise manage it appropriately; by taking time to smile, breathe and relax. Other times we need a little bit of help, which can be through exercise, meditation, massage, acupuncture. Please contact us if you’d like more information on how acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can help!
Caroline Prodoehl, TCMP
Maciocia, Giovanni (1998). Obstetrics & Gynecology in Chinese Medicine. Churchill-Livingstone. New York, NY.