As acupuncturists and herbalists, we often say that symptoms are ways in which your body receives messages about what is not working for you. Sometimes the messages are subtle, sometimes they are loud. It is not uncommon that we see people come into the clinic looking for help - but by that time their symptoms have been yelling and screaming for a while. Here are six ways that we see stress talking through physical symptoms. If you have any of these going on - it's good to take time to listen to your body and see what stressors may be underlying. Whether buried from the past or currently frustrating you, resolving and releasing stress can be a huge part of bringing your body back to health. We have included some tips on how to overcome as a bonus!
1. Headaches -
Pain in your head is a signal that you could be undergoing too much stress. In Chinese medicine, stress can cause theLiver Qi to become blocked, as well asdeplete the Liver Yin and Blood, causing Liver Yang to become unanchored and rise to the head. These are common underlying patterns for headaches, causing pain in the temples, behind the eyes, or at the top of the head. A study of 267 people with chronic headaches found that a stressful event preceded the chronic development of headaches in about 45% of the cases.
Tip: Acupressure around the eyes, temples and in the web between the thumb and forefinger are helpful. Pressing the hollows of the neck with the thumbs can also relieve the pressure. Take time to breathe deeply and slowly while pressing, as deep breathing helps to reset your nervous system. Close your eyes and visualize hot energy flowing downward from the head and out the feet while making a “hooooooo” sound (breathlessly, as if blowing on a candle).
2. Chronic Pain -
In the clinic, we see a lot of chronic aches and pains, including those from musculoskeletal injury, long-term wear and tear, and chronic autoimmune disorders. In western terms, pain is a common complaint that can result from increased levels of stress. When we are under stress, our cortisol levels increase. While short-term stress and increase in cortisol is adaptive, the long-term experience of stress and extended periods of heightened cortisol is associated with widespread inflammation and pain. Taking care of stress can help balance cortisol levels and reduce pain.
In Chinese Medicine - to put it simply, aches and pains can occur all over the body whenQi gets stuck or the Blood is not circulating well. Chronic pain is often a sign that your body does not have the resources it needs to take care of everything. The Qi will be used first to take care of all your vital organs - all the aches and pains elsewhere are second priority - and can go on the back-burner when there is too much to deal with. Deficient Qi and Blood flow and stagnation are two consequences of stress that we see almost on a daily basis. In the clinic, we often see pain that is also rooted in a past trauma that may or not be recognized. If the pain is caused by a past trauma - whether emotional or physical, there can be significant blockage built up - to resolve it, we must peel it back layer by layer.
Tip: Try some cupping. Cupping helps to move stagnation and blockages out of the body, detoxify, and release tension. The dark circles that can come from cupping are signs of toxins, stagnated blood, and lymph being released. Don't worry - they go away! Book now - cupping for the full back at Olanani is only $30 per treatment.
3. Skin Problems -
The only organ system we get to see with our own eyes is the skin - the outermost organ of our body. If you have ever had a problem with acne, hives, eczema, psoriasis, or any other number of skin disorders, you will know how stress can make it flare. Acne, eczema, psoriasis, chronic can be obvious signs of a stress load that is growing too large to handle. In Chinese Medicine, problems with the skin can be connected to imbalances within theLungs, Large Intestine, Stomach, Spleen, Liver, Heart, and Kidneys, and Blood. You can be pretty sure that if something is going on with your skin - the problem is not just the surface. Of course, there are times when the skin can be aggravated by something that is external, like the weather, an insect, chemicals. However, when it comes to more chronic skin issues, like the stuff that lasts more than a day - you can bet that your organ systems are affected and trying to give you a message. Those of us who have skin issues know how stress affects the skin - in times of stress, it worsens and flares.
Tip: If your skin is having problems, it's best to avoid inflammatory foods, such as processed foods, sugar, gluten, dairy, shellfish, spicy, oily, greasy, fried foods - especially while things are flaring - in order to calm it down. Instead, eat a balanced diet with clarifying foods that can help clean out your insides - lots of vegetables, clear soups and broths, fruits, and organic sources of protein.
4. Insomnia -
Oh, the woes of junk sleep. In Chinese Medicine, the problem is not just the lack of being able to fall asleep - it includes sleeping late, the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, overactive dreaming, talking in ones sleep, waking up to use the restroom, restless and superficial sleep, a snoring partner keeping you up. Daytime stressors can carry over and affect sleep all the time. The two organ systems that are the most directly responsible for good sleep are the Heart and the Liver - both which are highly emotional organ systems. The Liver, again, is the mediator of all of our everyday struggles and challenges - and can get easily irritated and frustrated. The Heart is the empress of all the emotions - she feels and is ultimately impacted by all the emotions. If there are emotions that have been left unprocessed from the day, your spirit will look for a way to process them at night while you sleep. This can lead to the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, dream-disturbed sleep, and more.
One master of Chinese Medicine once said, “Sleep is when your body repairs. If you do not sleep enough, sleep at the right time, or sleep poorly, you have a leaky hole in one or more of your systems.”
Tip: For those who have trouble sleeping well, it is best to avoid too much caffeine. Instead of coffee, try cacao with some adaptogenic herbs such as lion’s mane, reishi, or chaga for your morning warm-up, and do not consume caffeine after 2 pm.
5. Getting Sick Frequently -
If you find yourself falling ill frequently - catching colds and flus and always being the one at work with the sniffles, your body could be telling you that there is too much stress. Frequent respiratory infections are a signal of a compromised immune system, which is directly impacted by stress. In Chinese Medicine, the immune system is most directly influenced by the Lungs (the internal organ system that comes into most contact with the outside world), and the Spleen - which provides energy for all of our vital everyday functions. Both of these organ systems can be impacted by stress - especially when there are overwhelming thoughts, anxiety, worry, and grief.
Tip: Cover your neck and your chest. In Chinese Medicine, cold and wind, especially when combined, can make our bodies more vulnerable to pathogens. If you are susceptible to getting sick already, it is best to stay out of the cold or wind - and cover up the chest and neck - the areas of the body where wind can affect the Lungs most easily.
6. Digestive Issues -
Processed foods, sugar, dairy, oh - the fun of stress eating! And then there’s the not-so-fun consequences after…
Stress-eating is a sign of the Spleen and Stomach system craving energy and foods due to the depletion of Qi caused by stress. Anxiety, worrying, and overthinking all directly impact the Spleen and Stomach organ system - as they are the ones in charge of all intellectual processes and the “digestion” of information and experiences into our psyche. If we are overstressed, the Spleen and Stomach can go off balance, with more issues that can follow - acid reflux, bloating distension, constipation, pain, ulcers, irritable bowel, to name a few. While not everyone turns to stress-eating, for many people, the digestive system is the first to take hits when it comes to stress throwing things out of whack.Tip: When eating, take time to eat mindfully and in a relaxed way. Set aside any work or stressful conversations (don’t watch the news!) and enjoy your food. You will absorb more nutrients, have better metabolism, and overall enjoy better health if you don’t rush.