The Stress Response
One of the reasons stress affects us so much has to do with how our nervous system is hardwired. When we perceive a threat our body starts a cascade of events so we can fight, freeze, or flee. Take your ancestor for example. They are out hunting deer when they come upon a hungry grizzly bear. Your ancestor’s body is going to start by alerting the amygdala, an area in the brain responsible for handling emotions, survival instincts and memory. Once the amygdala is alerted it sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus where a cascade of events occur preparing your ancestor to fight, flee, or freeze. All of these changes are orchestrated through the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The SNS alerts the adrenal glands to release epinerhrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. These hormones are responsible for increasing your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate great if you need to escape from danger. For our ancestor these changes allowed them to survive. Check out this TED Ed video for more details.
Fight or Flight Today
Stress today is often times different from that which our ancestors dealt. We don’t have hungry grizzly bears competing for our food source, but that doesn’t change the way our body deals with a perceived threat. Whether it is our boss changing a deadline, or traffic making us late for an important appointment, our bodies’ response is the same as our ancestors’. The problem is, that unlike our ancestors, most of our stress occurs where fighting and fleeing aren’t always a viable option, especially in polite society. What’s worse, unlike our ancestors who once out of danger would be able to rest and recover from the stressful occurrence, our stress often continues. As a result, our SNS is always on, and our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) doesn’t get a chance to help us recover from the stress response.
Rest and Digest
The PNS is our rest and digest system. It helps to pull the nutrients out of the food we eat. This gives us supplies we need for repair and growth. The PNS is also responsible for the quality of our sleep. When we are able to sleep soundly and enter deep sleep stages is when our body is able to repair and store itself. If our SNS is too active we can’t enter deep sleep, resulting in feeling tired when the alarm goes off even if we slept 8 hours. An overactive SNS doesn’t only effect our sleep. It can also cause digestive issues such as heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome to arise. Acupuncture, like meditation, helps to turn off the SNS and allows the PNS to do its job. This is one of the reasons why you feel relaxed and calm after an acupuncture treatment. It is also why you may fall asleep during your session. If stress has become a problem and is affecting your life, you may want to look into acupuncture.
Comment below, or request a consultation to find out how acupuncture can help you deal with your stress.