Let’s talk about stress for a minute! First it’s important to acknowledge that not all stress is “bad”, or unhealthy. There are different kinds of stress, with differing effects on your body and mood. Healthy stress occurs when we are taking on projects that matter to us, it can be the motivating force that we need to do a good job when we want and need to, helping us show up and shine. One part of why healthy stress gives us a boost is because of how it makes our nervous systems operate. Stressful situations tap into the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) response, often referred to as the “fight or flight” response. This ancient system developed as a way to help us survive in perilous times--for instance when facing a bear, or fighting for our survival. Our heart rates speed up, blood circulation diverts from digestion to the large muscle groups, our pupils dilate, we sweat. These things in and of themselves are not inherently “bad” for us, but over time can affect our overall health, leading to higher rates of hypertension, inflammation, can contribute to the development of chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, depression and/or anxiety disorders, digestive issues, and more.
The counterbalance in our bodies for the sympathetic nervous system is the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), often called the “rest and digest” response. This very important system in our bodies doesn’t get nearly enough time to shine in a fast-paced world, especially now that even our down time feels wound up pretty tightly, as our lives have been drastically altered by the pandemic, world events, national social justice movements, climate change events- we are living through a year unlike anything we’ve known, with no division between work and/or school and home. Even rest can feel restless in 2020.
So where does acupuncture come into this picture? Western medicine is finally able to describe, in its own terms, a working theory on how acupuncture is able to positively impact the nervous system. I always tell potential patients asking how acupuncture can help them: at the very least (and this is a HUGE least), it will get you out of fight or flight. It’s like a reset or pause button for the SNS, which is a powerfully healing time-out for your nervous system. When acupuncture points are stimulated, there is an effect on our central nervous system, initiating a cascade effect of biochemical reactions that lift us out of the fight-or-flight adrenaline loop. Your time on the acupuncture table gives your body an opportunity to balance the scales, altering the symptoms of concern, root causes of those symptoms, mood, and overall sense of wellbeing. This can happen quickly and dramatically, or have a subtler effect that builds upon itself over a course of treatments. When we give the body this opportunity, the road is finally clear for the body’s innate ability to right its own course. We all heal in our own unique ways, at our own pace.
We live in a time when quick fixes are prized and legitimized, while subtler treatment systems, especially energetic, can be thrown out prematurely in pursuit of faster routes to feeling better (pain killers, steroids, etc.). Amazingly, so many Origin patients have an intuitive understanding of this truth: an organic fix, facilitated by the body’s own processes and on its own timing, is far more likely to be lasting, free of side effects, and have benefits that are far-ranging. I regularly hear patients share how much better not just their chief complaints are, but that digestion, sleep, mood, get better too! This is a great sign that the body is finding its way to a better equilibrium.
I’m impressed every day by the willingness of our patients to build a sense of community here at Origin, sharing their experiences with friends, family, and neighbors. The ripple effect of wellbeing in the larger community by word-of-mouth is in fact how awareness of Traditional Chinese Medicine grew in the US- there was no national ad campaign, just folks sharing their stories. This is community spirit at its best: people sharing their experiences of healing because they are rooting for the people they know and care about. My hope in writing this is to demystify some of the seemingly mysterious symptoms I’ve seen while practicing TCM in the time of Covid, as well as encourage and celebrate the strength it takes to seek and practice self-care as individually and collectively. Thank you for letting me be a part of Origin’s story in this most tumultuous year. May we all continue to find ways to thrive, share our stories, surprise ourselves, and heal what needs healing.