Stress & Anxiety
Stress plays a pivotal role in the quality of our health. And while stress is a part of everyday life, extreme stress or stress that is ongoing can negatively affect us in numerous ways -leading to digestive problems, headaches, poor sleep, and relationship problems, as well as being a factor in the development of many diseases as a result of an impaired immune system. Reducing stress is quite possibly the most important systemic effect of acupuncture.
Neuroimaging studies show that areas of the brain involved in rest and recuperation are activated with acupuncture, while areas that are engaged in a stress response become calmer.
Acupuncture has been found to relieve stress by influencing the autonomic nervous system (A.N.S.). Research has discovered that acupuncture stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone that regulates the parasympathetic nervous system. And unlike the sympathetic nervous system, which governs our “fight-or-flight” response and is overactive when we’re in a chronically stressed state, the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for maintaining life-sustaining functions such as respiration, circulation, and digestion. The parasympathetic branch of the A.N.S. helps to promote homeostasis, or functional stability, in the body. It has been referred to as our “rest-and-digest” or “calm-and-connect” system. Research has implicated impaired parasympathetic function in a wide range of autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease.
In a recent series of studies from Georgetown University Medical Center, acupuncture was shown to help relieve stress in rats. In one study, researchers simulated a chronic stress state in rats by exposingthem to a shallow ice bath for an hour a day. The rats previously treated with regular acupuncture had no spike in corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), a chemical made in the brain that launches stress hormones.This shows that acupuncture can not only help us to feel more relaxed after treatment, but it can also help us to become more resilient to stress for a period of time following treatment.
The substances released as a result of acupuncture not only relax the whole body, they regulate neurotransmitter levels as well. Studies have revealed that serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with improved mood, appears to increase in response to acupuncture.
Simply put, when we feel relaxed and are at ease, our bodies and minds operate out of a more balanced physiological state. Disease has a more difficult time establishing itself under these conditions.