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Stress

The Uniqueness of Stress

Stress is distinct from anxiety, depression, or pain, though it can exacerbate the experience these, and undermine your ability to cope with or recover from them. Anxiety, depression, and other similar mood disorders are often most disconcerting precisely because they are not always bound up with a particular circumstance or stimulus, or when they are, the response may feel out of proportion, overwhelming, seeming to invade one’s experience beyond what feels subjectively reasonable. Stress, on the other hand, comes from tension, resistance, or pressure – it tends to be oriented to life circumstances, very often centered work, finances, family, health, etc. In this sense, stress is necessary, and even, in some degree, healthy. Going for a jog or to the gym may generate stress in the muscles, ligaments, and bones of our bodies, but when performed properly, we becomes stronger, more capable. Our minds and spirits are not different – we only grow and become what we are fully capable of when we undergo normal, healthy amounts of stress, in terms of tension, resistance, and pressure from the world.

The Ubiquity of Stress

The difficulty arises when stress becomes unrelenting or overwhelming. Going for a run in moderate amounts can be beneficial, but suppose you were never allowed to stop running – how long before your body collapses? Or someone adds weight to your lift far beyond your capacity, and it comes crashing down on you, crushing the air from you? While these sound absurd, we regularly ask the same of our minds and spirits. Work pressures never relent, emails that must always be answered urgently, and family demands that may be, in each event, simple enough and even duties we undertake out of love, but when they never end, coming one after the next, our minds cannot cope, our spirits sag into exhaustion or anger, in simple self-preservation. And because our minds, bodies, and spirits – as cliche as it sounds – are never in actual fact separate from one another, our bodies take on the psycho-spiritual overflow as a way of helping the mind to stay stable and functional, as much as possible. So we grind our teeth, clench our neck and shoulders, get throbbing headaches, stop really breathing, have chronic indigestion or gastrointestinal distress, and other similar symptoms.

Stress and Acupuncture

Acupuncture cannot change your job, nor can it suddenly give you five fewer items on your todo list. But what it can do is, for the time of the appointment and for increasing periods thereafter, teach your body and mind what the sense of calm, of relaxation, of allowing oneself to rest, to take a breath, to recover actually feels like. Cortisol levels have been shown to drop during and after acupuncture treatments, and the parasympathetic nervous system is aided in re-establishing normal rhythms. As acupuncture helps the body and mind become more aware of the patterns of thought, behavior, and expectation that drive the relentless and overwhelming levels of stress, herbal medicine and mindfulness strategies can aid in the physiological and psychological aspects of your experience of stress. Taken as a whole, these strategies can give you new tools to breathe more freely, to find space where there previously was none, and to ultimately simplify and re-prioritize such that life becomes more full, and more free.

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