How does stress affect the body?
Updated: Jul 21, 2020
Stress causes physical damage to the human body, as indicated in several studies, including one by Stanford University researcher Robert Sapolsky. In another study, experts at the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that 90% of all illness and disease is related to stress.
Under stress, the body produces the stress hormone Cortisol. This hormone is responsible for getting the body ready to fight the stressor or run away from it. In both scenarios, our extremities (limbs) will need additional energy to fight or flee from the perceived danger. Cortisol does exactly that; it drives blood and nutrients from the center of the body, where most organs reside, and takes it to the limbs so that the person can have more energy to run or fight the stressor.
After the danger is gone, it takes about an hour for the body to get rid of the excess Cortisol running through the system and go back to normal. While the fight or flight response is a natural reaction and a great mechanism that helped our ancestors stay alive, the truth is that this very response is making us sick. Being under constant stress robs vital energy and blood from our system.
With so much blood and nutrients directed to our limbs, and not to our internal systems, we can suffer huge repercussions
How does the body respond to stress?
When the body is faced with the decision to either direct blood and nutrients to our limbs so that we can run away as fast as we can from danger, or to direct blood and nutrients to our digestive system, the limbs win. As a result, when we are under constant stress our digestive system suffers and we can experience diarrhea, constipation, ulcers, acid reflux, etc.
The same applies to our immune system. It is more important to have the energy to fight a saber-toothed tiger than to fight a virus. As a result, when we are under constant stress we tend to get sick more often. It is important to note that our brains don't understand the difference between thinking about a stressful experience and living it. The sympathetic nerve system will kick in and start releasing Cortisol, regardless of whether you are in the middle of a stressful situation or just thinking about one.
Where does TCM come in?
From a TCM point of view, when our Qi (vital energy) does not flow properly our health is compromised. Stress interrupts the free flow of Qi creating disharmony in different organ systems. By identifying the organ system that is out of balance, Chinese herbal formulas and/or the insertion of thin needles, are prescribed to bring the system back to harmony.
On April 25, 2019, The New York Times published an article outlining that "Americans are among the most stressed people in the world”. My goal as an acupuncturist is to help my patients maintain a healthy flow of Qi, which in turn, will not only dramatically reduce their stress level, but it will also significantly increase the body’s own defense mechanism, making it more resilient.
Schedule an appointment today to see how Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help with stress.