About Lynn

lynn jaffeeLynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of the book, Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health, a clear and concise explanation of Chinese medicine for the lay person. She is co-author of the book, The BodyWise Woman, a personal health manual for physically active women and girls. Read more about Lynn...

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Names and identifying details have been changed on any person described in these posts to protect their identity.

What, Me Stressed Out?

One of the questions that I ask every patient that comes through my door is about how much stress they’re experiencing.  Some own up to being stressed and others live their lives relatively stress-free.  Occasionally, I will have a patient who is so tightly wound they’re about to snap, but will deny being stressed at all.  How can this be?  Don’t they know they’re ringing the stress bell?  Apparently not.

In the past month or so, I’ve had some insight into those poor overwhelmed souls.  You see, the last four or five weeks have not been kind to me.  It was a time of things breaking.  Lots of things, like washing machines that won’t agitate, crashing computers, leaky roofs, and auto accidents, plural  (everyone’s fine, thank you).  I thought I was sailing right through this mechanical revolt, but interestingly I was having some odd physical symptoms during that same time. 

First of all, my teeth hurt. One in particular was zinging me every time I drank something even a little bit cool.  At the time I chalked it up to some dental work I had about six months ago, and thought that things should have calmed down by now. Additionally, I was having this funky pain under my ribs that was actually making it hard for me to sleep.  What’s going on?

Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, I realize that I was far more stressed out about all this stuff breaking than I had let on to myself.  The upside to this past month, is that the stress is now gone, and so are my weird symptoms.  The other upside is the idea for this post, which is a roundup of unrecognized physical symptoms caused by stress, mostly through the lens of Chinese medicine. So, here goes:

Achy teeth.  As soon as my life calmed down, my teeth stopped hurting.  I realized that I was clenching my teeth to the point that they hurt.  Tooth clenching can also manifest as a sore jaw, TMJ problems, a stiff neck, sensitive teeth, or in extreme cases, cracked or broken teeth.

-A sensation of heat.  In Chinese medicine, extreme stress creates energetic stagnation, much like your car seizing up.  If you’ve every witnessed a car seizing up, (I have), you’ll know that there’s some heat involved with the lack of movement.  Many women don’t recognize this heat as stress, because it can feel just like hot flashes.  However, I’ve treated stressed out men who were having what felt like hot flashes, too, and I know it wasn’t menopause.

-Feeling irritable?  In Chinese medicine, irritability is a kind of heat.  Heat speeds things up, and when you feel like the rest of the world is not moving fast enough to suit you, or not responding to your every need, it’s usually the heat talking.

-A bitter taste in your mouth.  This also happened to me last month, and was actually the tip off that I was plenty stressed by all the dead machinery.  At first, I thought maybe I getting a cold, but in fact, that bitter taste is another spin off of the stagnant heat I was experiencing.  The taste in my mouth was almost like I ate something burnt.

-Rib-side pain.  This was no puzzle for me.  The Chinese Liver is the organ system that governs the smooth flow of everything in your body.  Good health is all about flow, and clearly things in my life were not flowing.  Why the rib pain?  Well, the Liver pathway ends right up under your ribs—exactly where I was feeling that funky pain.

-Serious menstrual cramps and/or PMS.  As a general rule in my clinical practice, the worse the stress, the more “eventful” a woman’s menstrual period.  This may include irritability, cramping, or homicidal feelings.  Remember, it’s all about flow; when one thing isn’t flowing (emotions and stress) not much else flows well, either.

-Loss of appetite.  Again, this is about flow, but in this case, it’s digestive flow.  Any new, unwelcome changes in your digestion, especially a loss in your appetite can be a sign that you’re more stressed than you realize.

-Sleep disruptions and weird dreams.  Your body recharges itself while you sleep.  However, if you’re consciously or subconsciously rehashing some event, situation, or problem, your sleep is going to suffer.

The end of my story is this:  Once I got things repaired, replaced, and the snow off the leaky roof, my life returned to normal, except the bitter taste in my mouth and the rib pain. After the “aha” moment that I was suffering from stress and lack of flow, I had an acupuncture treatment.   After the treatment, the rib pain went away immediately, and the weird taste about a day later.  Back to normal.

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