Everyone experiences times of stress. Things happen in our lives that are out of our control. Loved ones get sick, sometimes they pass away, or move away. Sometimes we lose a job, or feel insecure in our current job. Sometimes we are stuck in a period of limbo, and need to give things time. We need to wait and be patient. We can tell ourselves, “everything is going to be fine” all day. We can repeat affirmations, push down negative thoughts, and think positive thoughts.
Positive thinking a great practice, but how do you know if it’s working? Your body will tell you, loud and clear, if you’re paying attention. Common ways the body talks to you during times of stress is through headaches and digestive disorders. Have you ever started experiencing headaches during times of stress, or needed to run to the bathroom with IBS type symptoms when you were nervous about receiving some news? Do you “hold stress” somewhere, like your shoulders or hips? Pay attention to these areas, and listen when they “talk” to you.
You can tell yourself everything is going to be okay, you can even deeply feel in your heart that it is, but your body might be responding otherwise. If that’s the case, then somewhere, in your subconscious, you are not feeling okay. People tend to think of the subconscious mind as either existing purely in their brains, or kind of like a mental bubble “out there” surrounding them. It’s actually in your entire body. In times of acute stress, the digestive system tends to speak up. The enteric nervous system of the digestive tract, often called the second brain, looks like a web of neurons that surrounds the digestive organs. The same neurotransmitters that affect the brain, affect the gut. Neurotransmitters are molecules like seratonin and dopamine, chemicals that we usually associate with depression, anxiety, and the brain. The gut will respond to stress. It will tell you when you are stressed, even when you are telling yourself you are not!
So, you’ve tried mind over matter, and that’s not cutting it. You try to exercise regularly, but you’re still reading the signs of stress in your body. What else can you do?
Acupuncture is an excellent treatment for stress related issues. It affects the nervous system, the circulation, and your organ function. It calms the mind and makes you present in the moment. It helps reset the body when it’s stuck in a stress loop (my unscientific, but relatable if you’ve experienced it, explanation). A caring acupuncturist (like me) will listen to you, and hold a space of healing for you. If you’ve been experiencing stress symptoms for a while, it’s advisable to find someone to help you through it. It will give you that little extra oomph, that can make all the difference.
Chinese herbs can also help. We say they “smooth the flow of qi,” which is the function of herbs given for stress symptoms. Many people come back to me after taking these, and tell me that they aren’t as triggered by situations that used to get to them, and that their mood is improved. The best part is that you still feel like you, unlike some medications that may make you feel spacey and disconnected.
Meditation is essential, every day. Think of it as a time to allow the dust stirred up by stress to settle and come to stillness. When you can return to stillness, you are able to think more clearly, and see opportunities in your situation, instead of being stuck in the same repetitive thought cycles. Here’s a simple meditation you can do with your eyes open or closed: when you inhale, think the word “inhale” and when you exhale, think the work “exhale.” Simply do this for five minutes, and see if you feel a shift in your thought patterns or a relaxation of muscle tension.
Last thing I will mention is the importance of regular meals that contain protein, fat, and fiber. Keeping your blood sugar stable and your body fed is essential to getting through tough times.