Forms of stress
Stress is now a common medical term and is considered a causative factor in various medical conditions. The purpose of this week’s blog is to provide some insight into what stress is and how stress management can be achieved with Traditional Chinese Medicine. First of all the medical effects of stress were first investigated by a research scientist by the name of Dr. Hans Selye. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Selye in 1970 at a scientific conference in Northern California. Dr. Selye was one of the first scientists to do research on stress and to define stress in terms of its physiological correlates.
Three stages of stress response
Dr. Selye documented three stages a person goes through in response to stress. These stages are:
- Alarm stage
- Resistance stage
- Exhaustion stage
The Alarm stage is when the body’s defense toward its “fight or flight” mechanisms is activated. It is in this phase that the individual and the physiology are exposed to a stressful situation. In response to this stressful situation the adrenal glands secrete large amounts of adrenaline and cortisol. These defense hormones allow the body to respond to threatening situations in a hyper-vigilant and energetic manner, making it easier to survive.
In the Resistance stage, the body either adapts to the threat or successfully resists the stress and returns to normal (homeostasis).
The Exhaustive stage is the most problematic. If this stage occurs, the body has failed to return to normal (homeostasis) from the Resistance stage, due to prolonged stress, low resistance, or malfunction. In the Exhaustion stage, the nervous system overreacts and causes the secretion of hormones. These hormones, primarily from the adrenal glands, cause the following:
- A loss of the ability to properly digest foods
- A decrease in circulation to the heart
- A drop in the body’s immune defenses by reducing the number of white blood cells
- A drop in oxygen carried to the cells
Adrenal stress hormones are the same ones that occur in the Alarm stage. Cortisol raises blood sugar and halts the immune response. Adrenaline stimulates the heart muscles and norepinephrine constricts the blood vessels, reduces oxygen to the cells, inhibits gastrointestinal muscles, and increases heart activity.
Stress symptoms checklist
The primary symptoms of stress are:
- Pain and tension in the neck, shoulders or low back
- Sleep problems
- Allergies and sinus problems
- Digestive troubles
If you have two or more stress symptoms, or are having those symptoms more than once per week, your body has a stress-related disorder.
Stress affects a person in the weakest area of their body. If you have a weak neck, stress will affect you in the neck. If you have a weak stomach, stress can affect you there causing ulcers, acid reflux, and other digestive troubles.
Clinically, I have found that there is a particular type of radial artery pulse associated with the Exhaustive stress stage. Whenever we find this pulse the patient will almost always exhibit an underlying uneasiness in their life. Deep inside their feeling world, the patient has a subliminal fearfulness, as if they are always waiting for the other “shoe to drop”, so to speak. This type of patient will always be over-active and hyper-vigilant in the hope that nothing bad happens, and is almost always tired.
Fortunately, Chinese medicine treats this problem very well. Some patients report feeling up to 50% better within 3 weeks, and up to 80-90% better within 6 weeks. The most common response after treatment is that the patient feels calm and strong for the first time in a very long time. Our clinic offers free pulse diagnosis to anyone curious about our clinic or his or her condition. If you feel that you are suffering from chronic stress, then please make an appointment to have your pulse examined and to allow us to answer any questions you might have about Chinese medicine.