This is Fine...
When I respond to the popular small talk question “What do you do?”, there are usually many follow-ups. One of the most popular being, “But how would acupuncture help me?” This is where it gets tricky. Not because it’s hard to find an issue where acupuncture wouldn’t help, more that it helps with so many things that it can be overwhelming to understand or even describe. You can approach it from different Eastern theories, you can describe it using biomedical terminology, you can talk about different needling techniques or how other modalities like cupping come into play – and all of these are valid. But, in today’s world of uncertainty and chaos with regards to politics, insurance, education, environmental issues and even knowing how long it’ll take you to get to work most days; how do you tell busy people that adding something else into their already maxed out schedule is really in their best interest? Especially when that thing entails a person sticking you with needles?
And then this meme came to mind. It’s popular because so many people relate to it, including myself… and why the heck is that? It’s because stress has become our norm and as a survival tactic we have convinced ourselves that despite the chaos around and within us, “This is fine”. In reality, it is not fine.
There are numerous articles about the consequences of too much stress and how it can affect your endocrine system, your cardiovascular health, your mental state, GI distress etc... Clearly, it’s is a big issue and needs to be addressed. But what is the mechanism that makes stress so dangerous? One basic explanation involves the comparison of sympathetic vs parasympathetic nervous systems - your “fight or flight” vs your “rest and digest”. Of these two, the one that you should spend the most time living in is your parasympathetic or “rest and digest”. It sounds lovely doesn’t it? I often say if you can get people to sleep and poop regularly it makes a world of difference, and as silly as that sounds it’s completely true. When your parasympathetic system is in control, your salivary glands are functioning, your eyes stay properly lubricated, peristalsis occurs regularly, absorption of nutrients increase, your heart rate is slowed and sexual arousal is easier to achieve. All these things that sound like they only happen on vacation, are supposed to be the norm.
On the contrary, your sympathetic nervous system is your “fight or flight” and while this is incredibly necessary, it should not be your everyday existence. I use the example of when you’re running from a bear, this is prime fight or flight time (please no one try to fight a bear based on this analogy). Your heart rate increases to pump blood faster, however the blood is directed toward your cardiovascular, respiratory and muscle systems and away from your skin and digestive tract. Your bronchioles and pupils expand to take in more air and light. Your salivary glands and intestines slow down because other than the initial possible response of peeing in fright, does your body really care how well you are absorbing nutrients or eliminating waste right now? No, you’re running from a bear! Clearly, where I live in NYC the threat of encountering a bear is slim to none. But, us city folk have our own versions of a bear to deal with on a day-to-day basis including public transportation, sky rocketing rent, carrying groceries 5 blocks and then up 4 flights of stairs, demanding hours and random things like having to witness a dude just peeing on the sidewalk outside my apartment who gave me a head nod when I looked at him in horror (true story). And a lot of these things apply to people living outside of NYC as well, although I truly hope the public pee is less common elsewhere.
But, other than calling it quits and going off grid, what are our options? As a defense mechanism we mentally adapt as a survival technique and convince ourselves that this constant state of stress is normal, “it’s fine”. But your body can only handle being in constant stress mode before it takes its toll and that can be different for everyone. It can show up as mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. It can appear as gastrointestinal imbalance including bloating, gas, acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea or the ever fun alternating of the two. It can seem like symptoms of adrenal fatigue such as exhaustion, salt cravings or being tired all day and then super energized at night. It can run anywhere from an eye twitch or ear ringing that won’t stop to hair loss. It can even be a factor in endocrine imbalances such as thyroid disorders. The list goes on and on because everyone is a special snowflake and is affected in their own way.
So now that you’re even more stressed about the havoc that stress causes, again why should you be stuck with needles on top of all this? Well, one of the goals of acupuncture is to return your body to homeostasis or… your parasympathetic system. Your body is an amazing organism that has the capacity to correct imbalances when given the opportunity. When you come in and see an acupuncturist, that treatment is tailored to you and how stress is manifesting in your body. It helps to direct and assist your body’s own healing capabilities so that it can address both the root cause of stress and the symptoms associated with it. No, we can’t fire your tyrant of a boss, but we can help get you to a place where you’re able to deal with them without your body hitting the panic button every time you see an email pop up. Did I mention that you can fit 15, if not more, acupuncture needles in 1 needle used to draw blood? Also, did you know that the medical theory behind acupuncture has been around for a few thousand years? So come on and try it… what are you stressing about?
~Heather Bluemel MS, LAc, Dipl. OM