Lately I’ve been seeing a disturbing trend among my patients. More and more are seeking acupuncture for health issues due to stress and anxiety related to their jobs. A few examples:
Joe* has a job he loves, but is anxious about his performance and afraid of being in the next round of layoffs. Every Sunday night and Monday morning, Joe is physically sick from the stress. He has heart palpitations, a tight chest, nausea, and numbness and tingling in his arms and hands.
Carrie has an impossible work load. She’s working twice as hard as ever making up for laid off co-workers who were never replaced. She knows she can never get caught up and the pressure has translated into digestive problems, diarrhea, and exhaustion.
Debbie has been laid off three times in the past two years. She’s working now, but the strain of catching up financially and the fear of another layoff has her so anxious that she can’t sleep at night.
Roy likes his job well enough, but his co-workers are the worst. They constantly interrupt him with petty requests; so much so that Roy is beginning to hate going to work. The aggravation is causing his IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) to flare out of control.
Employers—you’re killing your most precious asset; your workers. These people are the heart and soul of every company’s success. And these people are sick, tired, and falling apart. And yes, I realize that there are many people who are unemployed out there, and those who have a job should be grateful. However, that doesn’t mean that they should be so grateful that they work themselves sick.
So how does Chinese medicine play a role in this epidemic of blown-out, stressed out and tired out workers? One answer lies in the nature of the Chinese Liver system.
In Chinese medicine, while each organ has a physical location in your body, it is also considered a system with functions that can be physical, energetic, emotional, or symbolic. So imbalances within an organ system may manifest in several ways throughout your body.
Your Chinese Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of everything in your body—from your digestion to your emotions. Your Liver soothes your emotions, and an emotional upset is considered stagnation within your Liver system. Stress can damage other organ systems, most notably your Kidneys and Spleen. However, stress is regulated by the soothing and smoothing qualities of your Liver.
In addition, the natural element associated with your Liver is wood, which is hard and strong. The Liver’s function of smooth movement is similar to the slow but steady growth of plants in the spring or the slow but regulated rise of sap in trees. However, while appearing hard on the surface, wood must retain some flexibility or it will break, and this is also true of your Liver system. Without flexibility, whether physical or emotional, your Liver will stagnate and cause symptoms.
And this is what’s happening to our stressed out work force. They’re being flexed so far physically and emotionally that they’re beginning to break. The breakdown is evident in the countless symptoms affecting so many people in the workforce.
While Chinese medicine can’t make your job less stressful, there are ways that it can help. While most people think of acupuncture as being good for pain (it is!), many don’t realize that is can be effective in relieving stress and anxiety. It soothes the stagnation of your Chinese Liver and increases the feel-good chemicals such as endorphins and the natural pain-killers in your brain. While acupuncture can’t make your co-workers any nicer, it can make you a little better able to cope with the whistler in the next cubicle.
Acupuncture can also address the physical symptoms that are the result of your stress and anxiety. Whether, digestive problems, heart palpitations, or insomnia, acupuncture can help calm symptoms while calming your emotions.
Chinese herbs can also be effective for a large variety of symptoms. A primary herb for soothing the Liver is called Chai Hu, or bupleurum. Because Liver stagnation can cause so many different symptoms, Chai Hu is included in dozens of herbal formulas, depending on the symptoms to be treated.
Finally, anyone who has ever had acupuncture will tell you that the simple act of having a treatment is extremely relaxing. Taking time away from work and the quiet peacefulness of a session is a great way to recharge your energy and push the reset button on your stress.
For more information on your Chinese Liver and the other organ systems, check out Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.
*All names and some details have been changed to keep identities private.