It seems everyone is stressed these days. It’s enough that every day life events are stressful, but when there are disturbing events happening all around us like natural disasters, politics around the elections, and hate crimes, our emotions can simply overwhelm us. And guess what, it’s November already, and for some the anticipation of stress during the holiday season can easily send us over the tipping point to a feeling of being out of control. I am seeing more and more people at the clinic for stress related concerns like anxiety, depression, insomnia, digestive issues and a number of other symptoms. You may need time out!
The sympathetic nervous system, which activates the “fight or flight” response, is there to help us defend ourselves and keep ourselves safe. However, our nervous system does not know the difference between hearing about a natural disaster or other news event in another state from one that is happening directly to us. Our nervous systems tend to react the same. And it seems like every day there is something else coming at us that triggers our fight or flight response, so we are on high alert most of the time. Our parasympathetic nervous system – the “rest and relax” part of our nervous system – doesn’t get engaged enough to balance it out. As a result, our body produces too much cortisol over a long period of time and that can cause a host of issues from digestive problems, weight gain and increased blood sugar to pain, depression, and insomnia. Some research even shows that constant stress ages us more quickly.
Acupuncture regulates the nervous system and also regulates the hormones to lessen those “fight or flight” hormones and to release the “feel good” hormones. The use of acupuncture has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety levels and stress in individuals. Studies have found that acupuncture relieved symptoms such as migraines, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and pain resulting from post traumatic stress. The improvements due to acupuncture were also found to be very rapid, significant, and long lasting. I’ve had patients tell me they are better able to handle stressful situations after having acupuncture treatments.
Finding ways to manage stress so that you are better able to cope when something triggers your fight or flight response is key. I know it’s not always feasible to get to the clinic when this happens, so here are some ways you can manage the stress yourself.
5 Ways to Manage Stress
1. Simplify and Prioritize – We tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect. But setting unrealistic expectations only leads to more stress, so cut yourself some slack. You’ll easily cut your to-do list in half by simplifying your life and limiting your commitments. Already planning for the holidays? Try paring down your holiday card and gift list. Spend your time and energy on those people who are most important to you.
2. Plan ahead, but stay flexible – It can be helpful to plan ahead to make sure we anticipate things that might go wrong. If family holiday gatherings make you crazy, but you absolutely have to make an appearance, having an escape plan to get away from the chaos can go a long way. But even the best laid plans can go awry, so decide ahead to be flexible and go with the flow.
3. Keep it positive. Some of the best memories are made when we are helping others through difficult times, or during the holidays when things don’t work out as expected (remember the time the dog decided to help himself to the butter on the table?). Look for those opportunities to share fun times with loved ones and focus on the positive aspects of the situation. Think of how you want the encounter to go rather than working yourself up about all of the possibilities for it to go wrong. And try to find a little humor when things don’t go as planned!
4. Breathe deeply! Typically, the first thing we do when we are stressed is speed up our breathing, and start breathing from the chest instead of the diaphragm. Breathing quickly from the chest activates the “fight or flight” hormones, while breathing deeply though the diaphragm supplies more oxygen to our brain cells and activates the “rest and relax” parasympathetic nervous system which is the antidote to stress. You can do this by taking deep breaths with long exhalations. Do this a few times and you’ll be back to calm in no time.
5. Boost your support. Why is it that “things” happen around the holidays? Make sure you have your support and coping mechanisms at the ready, and even consider increasing them before the holidays or other stressful situations happen. For example if you normally go to one exercise class per week, consider adding another. If you are already stressed, but are thinking your are too busy to get in for your acupuncture treatment, reconsider and come in now so that you can manage the stress better as we go into the chaos at the end of the year (but if you can’t come in, try this acupressure point). It is important to recognize when you are feeling anxious or depressed and to ask for help when you need it. Consider coming to our Stress Free Friday Happy Hour to start the month by de-stressing.