Work, deadlines, finances, family, death/loss, medical problems, you name it – it creates stress. Nearly everyone who enters my office is dealing with some degree of stress. In fact, “toxic stress” is becoming a more common Western diagnosis than ever before. This term began getting used by psychologists who were working with children growing up in an environment that was constantly under stress. We are now the adults who, for the most part, grew up in that environment. As adults it feels only natural to replicate that same sense of stress in our lives since stress is imprinted in our nervous systems. Sounds silly, I know but as adults we seek out what felt familiar to us as children. And if instead we had a rather blissful childhood, it takes only a short while of participating in our society before we realize, being “under stress” is considered a normal way to get things done.
How do you know if you are toxically stressed out?
- Digestive Problems
- Irritable (including Rage)
- Getting sick a lot
- High Blood Pressure
- Shallow breathing
- Racing thoughts
- Low self-esteem
- Tense or painful muscles
- Painful jaw from clenching
- Little to no interest in being social or sexual
In my experience, when we are healthy, we are able to respond to stress when it enters our lives and then let the emotion dissolve when the stressful situation stops; meaning we have the arrival of stress symptoms and then the dissipation of the symptoms when the stressor is gone. But what I often see happening is a constant low grade stressor making our baseline of tolerance to stress, higher than normal. Therefore as life sends us stressful experiences, we have already been taxing our adrenals, the gland most responsible to helping us manage stress, and have very little resources to respond appropriately. Typically by the time people dealing with chronic stress make it into my office, they have been having these stress symptoms for some time and have forgotten what life could be like without feeling this way.
Acupuncture (as well as other supportive lifestyle changes) has been shown to significantly reduce the symptoms of stress and help create better internal and external resources for persons dealing with chronic stress. By resources I mean physically becoming healthier (lowering blood pressure, increasing oxygen, finding physical or breathing exercises that relax the body and calm the mind, etc.) as well as giving the body access to more of a variety of hormones and chemicals that help us feel relaxed and “at home” in ourselves. An acupuncturist can also help you build resilience to stress so that minor stressors have reduced or diminished impact and major stressors don’t linger.
Stress management involves coming to terms with what you can handle at any given moment. Rather than simply taking everything on, give yourself permission to say, “no” and/or to come back to things when you feel better resourced. And if it is a matter of changing your job or your lifestyle, then you must decide if your health is worth it. I say it is!