Stress: The Impact on our Mind, Body & Spirit Through a TCM & Western – Billi Health

Stress: The Impact on our Mind, Body & Spirit Through a TCM & Western Lens

Stress: The Impact on our Mind, Body & Spirit Through a TCM & Western Lens

By Madeleine Lou (Acupuncturist & Chinese Medicine Herbalist)

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Stress: The Impact on our Mind, Body & Spirit Through a TCM & Western Lens
Every living being has experienced some level of stress throughout their life. Whether it’s a little or a lot, we each have an understanding of how we individually respond under pressure.
We know that little bits of stress are actually good for us, andcan help motivate us to get things done and “perform well”. But the case for most in our society is that we are faced with a lot of stress, over prolonged periods of time.
Our brains cannot tell the difference between receiving an intimidating email from our work employer, and being chased through the jungle by a tiger.
The same stress hormones are being released for these two vastly different situations, with the goal being: survival.
These stress hormones cause our heartrate to increase, our blood vessels dilate so that blood can flow quicker to our limbs and help us move faster, and our pupils dilate so we can see better.
At the same time, other systems start shutting down to accommodate this: our digestive and reproductive systems slow way down and our immune system becomes supressed. If this stress is not dealt with or removed, and we don’t have adequate time to rest and recover from it, it can have serious impacts on our health.

Just because you don’t feel emotionally stressed, it doesn’t mean your body is not under stress. As a society we are verygood at avoiding uncomfortable emotions and disassociating from emotional stress.
What then happens is the physical body starts holding the stress for us.
You might be feeling emotionally “fine”, but the general rule is; if you’re overworking and under-resting, there’s an imbalance.
Here are some physical signs the body is holding chronic stress:

1. Teeth grinding at night/jaw tension
2. It’s hard to fall sleep
3. You wake up at random times in the night
4. It’s hard to take a deep breath
5. Tension or pain in the ribs/diaphragm
6. Irregular bowels
7. Bloating
8. Random muscle cramps
9. Tight neck and shoulders
From a Chinese Medicine perspective, stress affects all of theorgans, but it has a particularly strong effect on the Liver andsecondarily its partner organ, the Gallbladder. The Livercorresponds to the element of Wood. All of the above physical signs can be a result of an imbalance with the Liver/Gallbladder meridians.
Over a long period of time, stress causes Liver-Qi to become stagnant. One of the main functions of the Liver is to facilitate the smooth flow of Qi throughout the entire body. This smooth flow of Liver-Qi ensures the correct functioning of basically all of the organs in the body, that’s why when the flow of the Liver is disrupted, all the other organs can be affected in different ways with a myriad of symptoms.
Most importantly, the smooth flow of Liver Qi greatly influences our emotional state. A smooth flow of Qi means a smooth flow in our emotional life too.
It’s no wonder that 51% of adults who felt stressed also reported feeling depressed, and 61% reported feeling anxious (World Health Organisation, 2023).
Stress lowers our capacity both emotionally and physically.
Whilst we don’t always have the privilege to take more rest, or control our external circumstances, there are simple ways in which we can ease the impact of stress on our bodies and emotional wellbeing.
- Daily movement; exercise moves stagnant Qi and the Liver loves it. Just honour your capacity with this and don’t deplete yourself, it doesn’t have to be a HIIT workout everyday - walking, yoga, gentle running and dancing is fantastic. Do what feels good for you.
- Slow down; where you can – delegate, cut down, minimise and simplify pockets of your life that feel a little too cluttered (physically or emotionally).
- Set boundaries; with yourself and others. Not honouring our limits and sacrificing for others only leads to resentment and a build up of frustration – and guess what; this really aggravates Liver Qi, thus creating more stress.
- Regular Acupuncture; helps to calm the nervous system, ensure the smooth flow of Qi, soften the tissues/fascia/muscles, and bring us out of our mind and into our bodies.
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