The world we live in gives us so much stress. The morning traffic is stressful. Once you get to work, the work itself is stressful. Even after work, our minds are usually filled with daily concerns and personal worries that lead to stress.

Stress is usually associated with the Liver organ system in Eastern Medicine. The Eastern definition of Liver does not only indicate the liver itself, but also includes the central nervous system, the autonomic nervous system, some hormonal functions, and blood circulation. According to Eastern tradition, Liver is associated with the Wood element, which means that Liver energy needs to be free flowing, just as trees flourish and spread out their branches and leaves in all directions. When people are stressed, they feel exactly opposite of this; instead of being easy and free flowing, they feel contracted with of tension. Stress, therefore, impairs the Liver functions.

One condition of stress is stagnation of Liver Qi (chi). Qi is the life force that flows throughout our bodies and facilitates all bodily functions. However, when the Liver function is impaired, Qi does not flow freely and creates stagnation. Examples of this would be tightness in the chest, tenderness under the rib cage (where the liver is), discomfort in the throat (globus hystericus, or as the Chinese call it, “the plum pit sensation”), and sighing. Can’t you almost imagine that your lungs are reluctant to allow you to breathe smoothly and deeply, that inhaling and exhaling requires conscious effort? The above are typical stress symptoms; they are also signs of Liver Qi stagnation.

Stress also affects digestion. People sometimes lose their appetites or have diarrhea when stressed or nervous. This is another example of Qi not flowing smoothly. As I wrote in my last column, Qi facilitates the functions of organs. When Qi does not flow smoothly, imbalance between the digestive organs occurs. Besides a lack of appetite and diarrhea, stress causes some people to experience abdominal pain and distension. Western medicine attributes these symptoms to a disturbance in the autonomic nervous system which, like Qi, facilitates the functions of organs. Stress wreaks havoc with the autonomic nervous system, which disrupts the perfect balance of the stimulatory and inhabitory impulses to the digestive organs.

One more thing that people notice when stressed is tight muscles. Headaches, tense shoulders, and neck pain are very common to people under stress. Liver facilitates the free flow of Qi in our bodies. Where Qi goes, blood follows. When the Liver function is impaired by stress, the blood flow becomes sluggish and the blood stagnates in various areas of the body causing pain and discomfort.

Stress is a source of many diseases. Just because “feeling stressed” may not seem serious enough to seek treatment for, please don’t wait until it becomes a disease. Many people are unaware that Eastern medicine, especially acupuncture, works great for stress relief. A patient usually experiences complete relaxation during acupuncture treatment. It is common to see a patient fall asleep in the treatment room with soft background music playing. Acupuncture is known to stimulate the release of endorphines.* *

Endorphines are recognized as a “natural sedative,” so this is one way of explaining the euphoric sensation that patients experience during treatment. Yet, you might want to ask, “How can I be relaxed with all those needles stuck all over my body?” To answer this question, I need to clarify a few things about needling techniques.

First, most needles are much finer than hair. Some say that the insertion of needles should have less sensation than a mosquito bite. Secondly, all licensed practitioners go through years of practice. Typically, acupuncture students start practicing by needling themselves. After torturing ourselves with bad techniques, we know a thing or two about how not to hurt human bodies with needles. Then, the practice moves on to needling each other in class. We have at least two years of needling practice before we treat actual patients under supervision.

It is impossible not to be stressed in these times, so it is a good idea to have a stress remedy of your own. You will be surprised how much a simple walk in the park relieves stress. If you don’t have a good remedy, please visit your local acupuncturists. We have acu-points to calm your mind and herbs to restore your bodily balance.