Acupuncture for Stress

by Mary Vincent, L.Ac.

Acupuncture’s ability to simply help reduce the body’s response to stress appears to be a major factor behind the reason it helps with such a wide variety of issues. Regardless of what brings a person in for acupuncture, be it a physical, mental, or emotional issue, stress is almost always a common factor. Physical stress such as long term illness or injury not only cause symptoms such as physical pain or discomfort, but can also lead to depression, anxiety, fatigue and lethargy. Conversely, mental and emotional stress can lead to a wide variety of physical symptoms such as digestive discomfort, body aches, headaches, and/or loss of sleep.

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When a person is stressed the body responds in a predictable fashion. The body’s “fight or flight” reaction of the autonomic nervous system is triggered, leading to the following responses:
* Epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol (“stress hormones”) are released from the brain;
* Muscles become tensed;
* Breathing becomes more rapid;
* Heart rate and blood pressure increase;
* Blood sugar levels increase (as the release of stress hormone causes the liver to release glucose);
* Blood is diverted away from the digestive tract, significantly slowing the digestive process, leading to nausea and/or constipation (though the sudden rush of adrenaline can alternately cause diarrhea).

In an acute state of stress these physical responses can be beneficial, allowing a person to be hyper alert and sharpening one’s senses. However when a person is in a chronic state of stress, these physical responses begin to create long term wear and tear on the body.

It is widely accepted and many studies have shown that acupuncture releases natural opioid pain relievers from the brain, otherwise known as endorphins (the most recent study being circulated at this time can be found here). Endorphins are not only helpful at combating pain, but are also well known for being excellent as promoting relaxation and decreasing the body’s response to stress. They trigger a positive response in the body, causing an overall general sense of well being.

Most people who have had acupuncture can attest to, if nothing else, feeling extremely relaxed, calm and peaceful after a treatment. It is this deep relaxed state that acupuncture provides that can help counterbalance the negative effects stress has on the body. Acupuncture is a very simple technique that easily releases endorphins, creating a state of mental well being in conjunction with reducing physical discomfort, which helps to decrease or relieve the wide variety of associated physical and mental symptoms.

Acupuncture for Stress
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