We all live with some amount of stress. In fact, a little stress keeps life interesting, keeps you on your toes, and can be an agent for change. It’s when stress overshadows everything in your life, that it becomes a problem. Unrelenting stress can impact your health in countless negative ways, from insomnia to poor digestion.
In Chinese medicine, stress almost always is described as a disharmony between the Liver and Spleen organ systems. Very simply, your Chinese Liver system is responsible for regulating the smooth flow of all your body’s functions. When you get stressed, that flow is impeded, and it quickly harms your ability to digest and make the energy and nutrients you need to be healthy, which is the realm of your Chinese Spleen.
If you’re under a lot of stress, you could just drink another cup of coffee to keep going, work longer hours to get it all done, or tough out that untenable situation. Or you could make some changes to deal with the stress and reap the health benefits of having done so. Whether you change what’s making you stressed, take Yoga classes, get acupuncture, or learn to meditate, the balance and resilience you gain show up in a number of ways, including:
- Better sleep. The impeded flow of your Liver energy causes you to heat up. While you may not feel it during the day, it shows up at night in the form of a racing mind, restlessness, and waking up hot. Without the heat, you’ll sleep better.
- Your digestion improves. When you’re ringing the stress bell, your digestion takes a hit. However, with a little calm in your life, you begin to digest better. Gone are the heartburn, gas, bloating, loss of appetite, and IBS-like symptoms. As a result:
- You’ll have better energy. Remember, your Chinese Spleen is the home of your digestion, which converts food into energy and nutrients. When you’re doing that more effectively, you’ll feel the difference by having more energy.
- Fewer sugar cravings. Craving sugar and simple carbs is a sign that your digestion is funky. As it gets better, the urge for peanut butter cups, doughnuts, and chocolate-dipped pretzels goes away.
- Say good-bye to belly fat. In Chinese medicine, belly fat and stress go hand-in-hand. That’s one more by-product of ineffective digestion. In Western medicine, it’s the hormonal changes related to stress that cause you to gain around the middle. Yes, once you have that stress-related belly fat, you’ll have to do some work (exercise and good diet) to lose it, but you can reverse the mechanism that got it there in the first place.
- Better immunity. When you’re stressed out, your body mobilizes the systems it needs for the fight or flight response. However, it puts the systems it doesn’t need right now on hold, and that includes immunity. When things calm down, your immune system is back online, and that translates into fewer colds and flu.
- Fewer hot flashes. Seriously. When your Chinese Liver is not flowing, the blockage creates heat in your body (See #1). While the heat can mess up your sleep, it can also aggravate hot flashes or flushing, and in some instances even cause hot flashes in people who don’t normally experience them–including men.
- Less irritability. That’s right, the heat created by your stagnant Liver can make you downright cranky. When things are calm and your Liver is soothed, you feel more patient and less emotional.
- Uneventful periods. Ladies, ever notice that when you’re really stressed, you have worse PMS or more painful cramping? Remember, a healthy Chinese Liver helps everything flow better, including your period.
- Better focus. Who can concentrate when they’re stressed, have poor energy, and not sleeping well? In addition, many memory lapses are a by-product of feeling overwhelmed and having too much to do. When your life feels under control and relaxed, focus and memory return.
I know that taking care of yourself and relieving your stress can feel like one more thing to do in an already busy day. However, acupuncture can help you here. A few regular sessions on the table can calm you down, help you sleep better, and improve your digestion. Not only does an acupuncture treatment offer you a relaxing time out during your day, but it has also been shown to alter your brain chemistry in a good way to help you feel calm. Give it a try!