Living in modern society, we are exposed to stressors on a daily basis, and acupuncture can be key for stress management. Whether it be traffic, deadlines at work, finances, or confrontation with others, these all elicit a similar biochemical stress response. Stress is a normal part of life and, at times, vital to our survival. However, it becomes problematic when we are stressed for prolonged periods of time or become disproportionately stressed to a minor scenario. While some people have the tools & habits that allow them to downregulate and calm their stress, others get stuck in a more chronic cycle.
How does stress affect the body?
When we encounter a stressful situation our sympathetic nervous system is activated and a number of neurochemicals are released. The sympathetic nervous system is associated with the “fight or flight” response. When it is activated, heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure all increase. In this heightened state, things like digestive function, sleep quality, and tissue regeneration all decline. Additional negative effects include impaired immune function, and increased adipose (fat) storage.
With all of these negative effects, one can see how chronic stress will greatly impede progress in the gym and other areas of life. Luckily, acupuncture along with other practices can help you access your parasympathetic nervous system and induce a state where the body can “rest, digest, and repair”.
How can acupuncture help with stress management?
Acupuncture unfortunately can not remove stressful events from your life, but it can help you better respond to them with less feelings of stress. The main reason is that acupuncture is great at calming the nervous system and inducing a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state.
One body area that acupuncture is able to influence and calm the nervous system is actually the ear. This may seem strange, but there is a reason for it. The Vagus nerve (the tenth cranial nerve) wanders down from the brain to regulate the heart and digestive organs. It is the main nerve associated with setting the parasympathetic (rest and digest) tone of the body.
Now, here’s where ear acupuncture comes into play: the vagus nerve has another branch that actually travels to the ear and is easily accessed with an acupuncture needle. The acupuncture needles have a neuromodulatory effect, and stimulate the vagus nerve to stimulate the rest of the body to relax.
What can acupuncture do for cortisol levels?
Other interesting studies have shown that acupuncture may have influence over the body’s release of cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Normal cortisol levels should spike in the morning to wake you up, but then should decline as you progress through your morning. When we are chronically stressed those levels will stay elevated throughout the day. When elevated for lengthened periods of time, cortisol can actually stimulate storage of fat. This could be one of the many reasons that it is difficult for an individual to lose weight.
Everyone’s response to acupuncture is different, but oftentimes patients will report a reduction in feelings of stress after the first visit. It is then important to employ other habits that will continue to calm the nervous system. Some great options include breathing or meditation, exercise (we can help!), mindfulness practices, cold water exposure, and taking a vacation every once in a while. Stop in to Hyatt Training to see how acupuncture can help you reduce feelings of stress. Book your appointment with Adam
Author Adam Gawlak is a Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc) and personal trainer (CSCS). His specialities include sports medicine acupuncture, motor point acupuncture, trigger point needling and traditional Chinese medicine, along with strength training, athletic performance, and corrective exercise.