Now, more than ever before, many people are feeling stress in their day-to-day lives. While some stress is okay, constant stress can take a toll on a person’s body, weakening their immune system. Stress can affect the body in many ways, ranging from mild symptoms to life-threatening effects. In this article, we’ll take a look at acupuncture and stress relief.
How Stress Affects the Immune System
Stress, whether physical or emotional, causes the body to release the stress hormones: adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. This is called “stress response” or “fight or flight” response. Cortisol, one of the stress hormones released, suppresses the immune system and inflammatory pathways by keeping the body in fight or flight mode, making a person more susceptible to infections and chronic inflammatory conditions.
The body’s ability to fight off illness is reduced, affecting all systems. Some studies have shown that stress can even cause structural changes in different parts of the brain as well. Following are just a few examples of how stress affects the body’s systems:
Respiratory system: Stress immediately affects the respiratory system. Breathing becomes harder and faster in an effort to increase oxygen-rich blood into the body. People with a history of asthma or anxiety will feel this response more than those who don’t.
Musculoskeletal system: Many people hold stress in their neck and shoulders. Repeated muscle tension in these areas may result in migraines and headaches.
Gastrointestinal system: People under stress may be more prone to acid reflux and heartburn. The ability to absorb nutrients from the food we eat may be reduced. Stomach pain, bloating, nausea, diarrhea and constipation may increase as well.
Cardiovascular system: Acute stress can increase heart rate and blood pressure. If stress is repeated and becomes chronic, it can damage blood vessels and arteries, increasing risk for hypertension, heart attack, and stroke.
Measuring heart rate variability (HRV) is a noninvasive way to help identify these kinds of imbalances. If your body is in a fight-or-flight mode due to stress, the variation between heartbeats is low. Low HRV is associated with increased risk cardiovascular disease.
Acupuncture and Heart Rate Variability
Heart rate variability (HRV) is the measure of the variation of time between each heartbeat, controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS regulates many areas of the body including digestion, blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate—and transmits signals to the body to either relax or stimulate different bodily functions.
People with a high HRV tend to have better cardiovascular fitness than those with a low HRV. High HRV is also indicative of the body being more resilient to stressors, while low HRV is associated with increased depression and anxiety.
HRV can change through several methods, including meditation, sleep, physical activity, mindfulness, and acupuncture. Stimulating acupuncture points activates various neural and neuroactive components of the central nervous system and ANS.
Because stress can either trigger or aggravate many diseases and pathological conditions, you can track HRV yourself. To do so, you can buy a chest strap heart monitor, which are more accurate than wearables or finger devices. Various apps are available to analyze the data, so checking HRV several times a week after you wake up can help you track changes as you make changes to your lifestyle—which can include acupuncture to help relieve stress.
How Acupuncture Can Help Relieve Stress
As part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to treat stress as well as ailments that result from chronic stress. Here in America, it’s often considered an alternative treatment, but research studies show that acupuncture can really help. Stimulating acupuncture points can help correct imbalances in the body and improve the flow of “qi,” which is the Chinese word for “vital energy.”
Acupuncture affects the body in many ways, including stimulating the pituitary gland and hypothalmus along with the body’s natural opioid system. Acupuncture can decrease neuronal activity—resulting in the brain turning off pain and stress regions in the brain and can help raise HRV to healthier levels.
Dr. Bianca Yturralde specializes in stress induced illnesses, among other ailments. Book online or call 972-813-9414 to schedule, or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to learn more about acupuncture to see if it’s right for you.