Acupuncture for Managing Stress
‘Stress syndrome’ was first described in 1976 (Seyle) and encompasses the pathological and physiological changes brought about by, for example, societal pressures, family tensions or business competitiveness. Physical events such as whiplash also cause a physiological response which can be either mental or strictly physical (muscular tension primarily).
Whilst stress is not of itself a pathological condition it may produce pathologies. It is a defensive and adaptive reaction characterised by three phases: an alarm phase with hormonal biochemical alterations, a resistance phase in which the organism functionally organises itself in a defensive sense, and a breakdown phase where one loses the capacity for further adaptation. There is also a relationship between the psychological system and the endocrine reactions. This means that the individual tries to make sense of the significance of the event which is stressing them. If the event is too much to cope with, the individual may have no capacity for dealing with the event and stress will result.
Stress and TCM
Stress commonly affects the area around the diaphragm and the musculature of the chest and upper back, throat, jaw and head. If the constriction of the diaphragm develops into a chronic stress response, it can lead to various disturbances including agitation, weakness in the lower body, and symptoms of decreased metabolic activity (Schynyer and Allen, 2001).
In TCM, diagnosis and treatment of stress and related conditions is based upon an in-depth consultation which involves identifying the causative factors and aetiology of the stress. Diagnosis and treatment are based upon a number of factors including physical and emotional signs and symptoms. During a treatment, the practitioner will work with the patient to balance their body and mind. For example, much attention is given to the detail of the patient’s lifestyle, diet, exercise and previous history. For female patients, the menstrual history is a critical element of the diagnosis and treatment, as stress can adversely affect the cycle.
Other practices, such as Chi Kung and T’ai Chi, flowing forms of exercise known to have a balancing effect on the mind and body, may also be recommended to enable the patient to release their stress in a constructive way.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Stress?
Holly et al (2001) found that acupuncture significantly lowered blood pressure during stressful situations. There is limited research in the West into the efficacy of TCM on stress, and although Chinese researchers have done a considerable amount, the standards of research are not always considered to be consistent with Western standards. However, taken together, there are some promising results which may be worth further research.
Middlekauf, HR, Yu, JL, Hui, K (2001) Acupuncture effects on reflex responses to mental stress in humans, American Journal of Physiology, Vol 280, No 5, pp 1462–1468
Schnyer, R N, and Allen J J B (2001) Acupuncture in the Treatment of Depression: A Manual for Practice and Research’ Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone
Seyle, H (1976) Stress without fear.