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Flipping the Switch: How Acupuncture Helps with Stress

Flipping the Switch: How Acupuncture Helps with Stress

As an Acupuncturist, it’s common for me to walk into a treatment room to work with a patient whose chief complaints are largely centered around stress. And while acupuncture as a modality has been known for thousands of years to be helpful for stress, most people fail to understand the mechanisms by which acupuncture actually accomplishes this.

Generally, we operate in one of two settings in our nervous system: our sympathetic nervous system, which is our “fight or flight” setting, or our parasympathetic nervous system, which is our “rest and digest” state.

The concept is that the human body is naturally at its most healthy state when we favor our parasympathetic nervous system, only venturing into the sympathetic state temporarily for stress.

However, many of us have learned to use this state of stress as a crutch that we lean on far too often in the modern world when we are late for work, working on a project deadline, or can’t find our keys.

When we engage in this state too often, we alter our body’s normal mechanisms that would regularly cycle back to turn the switch off, leading us to live a majority of our time in a state of stress. This eventually leads to further problems clinically, often resulting in the development of muscle tension, headaches and migraines, or gastrointestinal dysfunction.

So how does acupuncture help? By helping you to naturally flip the switch!

From a study published by the National Institute of Health in 2013 entitled “Acupuncture Effect and Central Autonomic Regulation”, the conclusion states “Emerging evidence indicates that acupuncture treatment not only activates distinct brain regions in different kinds of diseases caused by imbalance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic activities, but also modulates adaptive neurotransmitter in related brain regions to alleviate autonomic response.”

In plain language, the authors are stating that acupuncture treatment is observed to not only relax patients who are stressed but to help with their ability to adapt to future stress.

In essence, acupuncture treatment trains your nervous system to prefer its more relaxed state the same way that many of us learned to throw a baseball, it simply requires a certain amount of repetition to develop the appropriate “muscle memory”.

This is why we educate our patients that it’s best to come in two to three times per week in the initial phases of treatment after which we can scale treatment out to once per week or once per month, and eventually cycle out of treatment entirely when the patient feels comfortable to do so.

In the end, the goal of the treatment is to break the cycle of a constant negative state, to train the body and the mind to remember its more naturally rested state, so that you can maintain that sense of peace long after you leave the treatment space.

For further information feel free to read the article referenced above at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3677642/

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