Natural Stress Relief
Written by: Stephen Durell, MTOM, R. Ac
Stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Emotional stressors can drive us to make positive changes in our lives. It may be the stimulus to do our best when at work so we can be more successful. Physical stressors can also be healthy with the right balance. For instance, exercise is a stressor that tells the body that it needs to get stronger. Some things that we eat are bad for us in large quantities but small amounts are good. This is why we get conflicting information about things like alcohol. A glass of wine a day is good for your heart but more than two can contribute to heart disease. I'm a big fan of a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water each day. At that small level, the acetic acid that the vinegar contains stimulates our bodies to improve digestion (to get rid of a toxin in our diet). Large quantities, though, can cause severe problems.
So, it's when the stress is too severe or lasts too long that we need to be careful. Traditional Chinese medicine teaches us that negative emotions are a major cause of the imbalances that cause chronic diseases. And, ironically, chronic imbalances can cause negative emotions as a symptom. This often becomes a vicious cycle and we need to address it.
Physical exercise is a great stress reliever as long as it's not excessive. People should start slow and exercise within their capabilities. Meditation or mindfulness should also be part of your exercise routine. The Chinese use Qi Gong (pronounced Chee gong) and Tai Qi as forms of moving meditation. I highly recommend giving them a try. Yoga can give the same benefits and there is an ever-increasing number of classes available.
Getting adequate rest is extremely important. This includes giving yourself enough time to sleep at night and getting some rest during the day. Seated meditation is a great way to get some added rest and can be done anywhere. It can be as simple as focusing on deep breathing and counting the breath. Done daily, as little as 5-10 minutes can make a big difference over time. There are a lot of great books on the subject and even apps for smartphones. A great way to add to these meditations is a little acupressure. Press firmly on the 'third eye' for 10-15 seconds. Then squeeze the eyebrows closest to the nose moving outward every 10-15 seconds. End by massaging the temples and the ears.
Essential oils can give quick stress relief. They should be inhaled through the nose when used for emotional symptoms. A diffuser can be used at home or work. A few drops on a cotton ball placed in a ziplock bag is a great idea for people with stressful drives. Favorites for stress are bergamot, lavender, vetiver, and chamomile. Most essential oil companies have mixtures for stress.
There are a number of herbal treatments worth trying. While generally safe, people that take medications or are pregnant/ nursing should consult with a qualified medical provider before starting. For people that are stressed and anxious, valerian can be helpful. When taken to aid sleep, it should be taken for at least two weeks. People that are more run down from stress do well with eluthero (Siberian ginseng) or withania (ashwaganda).
Taking care of stress also means taking a good look at the stressors that cause it. Some bigger stressors can't be changed without a major change in lifestyle. Time spent with family members or stressful people at work can be limited. Learning to say 'no' when you need to is a great life skill. And, everyone deserves to schedule time for themselves. Licensed counselors and life coaches can be really helpful here.
If these aren't enough to help people get out of the stress cycle, acupuncture and Chinese medicine can be a way to treat stress rather than just manage it. Acupuncture is a very strong stress reliever by balancing the nervous system and addressing stress hormones. When Chinese herbs are tailored to specific patients, their effect can be amazing.