Let’s face it, all of us can use a little help with stress reduction! You may not realize it , but stress can be the cause of many ailments and illnesses and can exacerbate any health condition you may have. When we are healthy and the stress is short-lived, we are usually able to recover without too much wear and tear to our overall health. However, over time, a constant state of stress takes its toll. Cortisol, the body’s stress hormone elevates, blood pressure increases, and our immune function is suppressed. Studies have found that stress seems to worsen or increase the risk of conditions like anxiety, obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma. In my own acupuncture practice I’ve see stress manifest as headaches , neck and back pain, insomnia, fatigue, digestive problems and skin conditions just to name a few.
In today’s fast paced world, we have to find ways to manage this and reduce the health risks. Research has shown that the body secretes an assortment of hormones into the bloodstream as a reaction to stress, causing the “fight or flight” response to activate. Acupuncture is an incredibly effective tool to reduce stress. Patients will often fall asleep during a treatment and leave feeling deeply relaxed. I’ve heard many times “I shouldn’t be allowed to drive after acupuncture! ” You will truly feel “reset”, totally relaxed and recharged after a treatment. How is this possible? It is well documented that acupuncture can stimulate the release of endorphins; hormones that are responsible for relieving pain. It also has been clinically proven to lower stress-related cortisol levels. Acupuncture with electric stimulation affects the autonomic nervous system, blocking the chronic stress-induced elevations of hormones and restoring homeostasis (or balance) to the resting state. The general sense of well-being may also be attributed to increased levels of mood altering neuropeptides including melatonin, serotonin, and dopamine. From a Chinese Medicine perspective, acupuncture does two things: Calms the mind and treat the underlying organ system that may be affected. This results in both an immediate feeling of relaxation or calm as well as increasing the patients ability to handle future situations.
Another way to manage stress on your own at home is through the sense of smell. Certain smells remind us of pleasant memories , for instance the smell of the ocean can invoke relaxation all on its own. The smell of flowers reminds us of spring. According to an article published in Psychology Today, “The capacities for both smell and emotion are rooted in the same network of brain structures, the limbic system.”
The sense of smell can be used to improve pain tolerance. Any pleasant smell can act as a distraction and lift mood, but recent studies suggest that sweet smells may work best. You can also use your sense of smell to deliver instant relaxation, by pairing that aroma with a calming meditation session, massage or while you sleep. After a few experiences, the odor itself will elicit a relaxed state, each time you smell it.
“Aromas have different effects on everyone, but the following natural fragrances are odors for the masses:
“Peppermint is generally invigorating. “Peppermint scent increases activity in the brain area that wakes us up in the morning ,” says Bryan Raudenbush, a psychologist at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. His research has shown that exercisers run faster and do more push-ups when exposed to the scent. Try a few drops of peppermint oil on a wristband.
Jasmine is a sleep aid. “Our research has shown that the scent of jasmine in your bedroom leads to a more restful night of sleep and a greater level of alertness the following day,” Raudenbush says. Other labs have found that the scent increases the brain waves associated with deep sleep. Put some jasmine oil in a bedside aroma diffuser or sprinkle a few drops on your pillow.
Lavender is generally relaxing. Exposure to lavender scent can decrease heart rate. Use the scent for unwinding at bedtime, suggests Avery Gilbert, a sensory psychologist in Montclair, New Jersey. Or take several whiffs to recharge yourself during work breaks. Japanese researchers find that the practice helps prevent an afternoon slump in concentration.
Vanilla abets weight loss. Herz finds that it works as a replacement for the pleasure that you would get from eating sweets—but without the calories. “This is not a scent you would use if you had an empty stomach, because it’s likely to just make you hungrier,” she says. But if you’ve had a healthy lunch, it can help curb the craving for a candy bar afterward.”
There’s so much more I can say about this topic, but the bottom line is be proactive. Interrupt your stress cycle by scheduling an acupuncture visit, massage or using essential oils in between to counteract the health risks that stress can cause overtime.