Free Press Article – Friday, July 27, 2012

April L. Schulte-Barclay, DAOM, LAc

We can be grateful for stress. Yes, grateful.

Stress at low intensity and in short intervals can give us signals to direct our lives in a positive way. One of the more obvious benefits of stress is in the context of our physical bodies and exercise. When stress is applied to our bodies via weight-bearing exercises such as walking, hiking and lifting weights, our muscle strength increases and our bone density is maintained. When the stress is in the form of an injury, pain signals remind us to limit use of the injured body part until healing has taken place.

What may be less obvious is that the signals stress provides can guide us in our pursuit to attain optimal emotional and spiritual health as well. These signals come in different forms, and like physical stress, may strengthen our emotional resilience. Emotional stress may show up in different places in the body such as an aching heart, a heavy chest, anxiety, a lump in the throat, or with more physical symptoms such as headache, joint pain, or even an upset stomach and diarrhea to name a few.

Now I invite you to consider the possibility that while physical injuries and emotional injuries may originate specifically as one of the two, it is not long at all before they become enmeshed together. Clinically, I often see that in order for physical healing of an injured body part to be successful there is work to be done to reset the central nervous system and hormones on an emotional level. This is because emotions initiate a chemical cascade that rushes through our bodies and initiates many different secondary physiological responses and symptoms of stress that may seem unrelated.

While stress in short spurts, at a low intensity, helps to direct us in our lives to maintain health, too much stress can be at the root of several illnesses and can magnify underlying health conditions. Prolonged stress weakens the system and leaves us vulnerable to physical and emotional injuries. I commonly mention to my clients that stress acts as a magnifying glass for current conditions. When I blame stress as a factor in one of my patient’s chief complaints, often the patient exclaims that their level of stress is normal, therefore how could stress be the cause of their newly occurring insomnia, autoimmune disease diagnosis, chronic back pain, or weight gain?

The problem is “normal” stress is not necessarily healthy stress and over time prolonged stress exacerbates underlying conditions and causes a snowball effect within the system. Once the snowball is big enough, it causes stagnation in the system that leads to a bigger problem than there was in the beginning.

PLANS TO MANAGE STRESS

When one is experiencing abnormal amounts of stress that has surpassed healthy levels, having a stress management plan incorporated into our daily living routine is invaluable. The following list contains a few ideas that are helpful for moderating stress levels. The more elements combined and incorporated into our daily life habits, the more our physiological responses to stress are moderated and the healthier we can be.

  • Acupuncture — According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, stress causes the body’s energy to become stagnant which may lead to depression, anxiety or pain. Acupuncture acts to unblock the stagnant energy thereby relieving symptoms associated with stress. From a Western perspective, it is known that acupuncture boosts painkilling hormones in the body and increases blood circulation.
  • Biofeedback — A system often involving sensors on the body to measure stress, biofeedback balances the nervous system by helping a person develop tools to better manage stress within the body
  • Meditation — Promotes mindfulness to help recognize patterns of thought that are either helpful or non-helpful in managing the stress response.
  • Eat regularly — Eating healthy food at regular intervals (every three or so hours) helps to maintain blood sugar which balances hormone levels in the body.
  • Exercise — Boosts feel-good hormones
  • Massage — Useful for more than just relaxation, massage improves circulation and relaxes muscle tension
  • Health coaching — Finding ways to simplify life and live in a way that is fulfilling

At Healing Horizons, we incorporate the above modalities to help our clients achieve their fullest potential in living healthy and happy lives. If you would like help coordinating your stress management plan, feel free to contact us at Healing Horizons to hear about our integrated approach to health care.

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April L. Schulte-Barclay is a Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and is a licensed acupuncturist. She is licensed by the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners and is certified by the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. She is also founder and clinic director of Healing Horizons Integrated Health Solutions.