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When Stress Is The Diagnosis

For some patients, their journey to discovering acupuncture comes after seeing a string of specialists. These patients generally first saw their primary care provider who ordered blood work and maybe some preliminary tests or imaging, which all came back normal. Then that doctor referred the patient to a specialist. Then that specialist found all of their additional blood work and tests to be normal and then suggested another specialist. Then maybe another specialist, then another, and another. By that point, a lot of time has passed and the patient hasn't felt well the entire time. They know that something is physically wrong but their blood work, tests and imaging suggests that nothing is wrong, which sometimes leads the patient to feel unheard and depressed. These patients may get a sense from their doctors that what they're feeling is "all in their head", yet they feel things physically that says otherwise.

I've heard various versions of this story hundreds of times. After evaluating their pulse and abdomen, usually I can validate what they're feeling using Chinese medical language, and the patient usually feels relief and asks, "so it's not all in my head?"

No, it's not.

But still the patient asks how things got to the point where they're not feeling well, to which I'll ask how their stress level had been before they started not feeling well.

And more often than not, that's when patients begin to realize that stress is not only in their head but in their body, really their entire being....and perhaps that ultimately their diagnosis is stress.

According to Cleveland Clinic, the following symptoms may result from stress:

  • Aches and pains

  • Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing

  • Exhaustion or trouble sleeping

  • Headaches, dizziness or shaking

  • High blood pressure

  • Muscle tension or jaw clenching

  • Stomach or digestive problems

  • Trouble having sex

  • Weak immune system

Though high blood pressure can be measured, some of these other symptoms can be more subjective and difficult to evaluate through measurable testing. That doesn't mean that these symptoms aren't real, but most importantly it doesn't mean that stress is "all in your head".

So what can you do to relieve stress?

1. Acupuncture. I often put acupuncture last on my lists of suggestions not because it's not as important but because I want to highlight other options first. However, in my 20+ years of experience in giving and receiving holistic, natural heath care, I can say for certain that acupuncture is exceptional when it comes to relieving stress. One treatment can do wonders for resetting the nervous system and the body's stress response. Additionally, stress doesn't manifest the same for everyone, and each treatment is customized for each session depending on how stress has been manifesting.

2. Exercise. Movement metabolizes stress. Our bodies were designed to move. Movement not only improves our mood but also decreases cortisol, the body's stress hormone.

3. Therapy. Having a good therapist as part of your healthcare team can make a huge difference. Mental health professionals can help you process the stress in your life. In my experience, patients who see a therapist generally have better treatment outcomes.

4. Relaxation Techniques. Meditation, yoga and breathing exercises can ease the effects of stress. Apps like Calm and Headspace can be excellent tools for enhancing these techniques.

5. Food That Are Close To The Earth. Foods that are high in sugar and artificial ingredients do not provide the best materials for our bodies to function. Eating fruits, vegetables, legumes, healthy fats, whole grains and lean proteins support the body whereas things that are high in refined sugar and artificial ingredients tax the body.

6. Sleep. Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep, but if you are having trouble falling asleep, having trouble staying asleep, and/or you don't feel rested in the morning, your sleep quality may not be optimal and you may need to make some adjustments. Try going to bed a little earlier, turning off the television and dimming the lights earlier, or listening to a guided meditation before bed.

7. Say No. Over obligating can easily cause stress. When saying no to someone who asks you to do something, what you're also doing is preserving your energy for the things you're already doing while also honoring what you can do with as much ease as possible. In turn, the person who asked you to do something has the opportunity to find someone else who has the energy to offer.

8. Relationships. Build relationships with people who bring you joy, make you laugh, and are generally positive. Who we spend time with can influence how we feel.

9. Gratitude. Practicing gratitude has been shown to decrease stress. A simple practice is to write down 5 things for which you are grateful. Some prefer to start their day this way as it can set the tone for the days. Try to write down different things each time. The things you write can be as simple as the water pressure in your shower to the hero in your life.

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