Stress, we all have it! Be it positive or negative, from global pandemic, to work, relationships, family, finances, world politics - stress is ever present. Although stress has a negative connotation, stress triggers necessary physiologic reactions that protect us from danger. One common example of why the stress response is important is being able to run from a tiger.
Research has well demonstrated the varied effects of stress upon our internal milieu. Our ability to cope actually begins as infants and is impacted, at a genetic level, by how we are reared and the nurturing we are given. Our environments impact our genetic expression which in turn lends some of us predisposed to have reduced stress responses and others to have enhanced stress responses. Again, the stress response in itself is important for helping us react appropriately to short term threats. However, chronic stressors cause a varied range of adverse health effects and the connection between chronic disease and stress is known, demonstrated, and complex. A large study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggested that even mild stress can lead to long-term disability that prevents people from working. The authors conclude, “Mild psychological distress may be associated with more long-term disability than previously acknowledged and its public health importance may be underestimated.”
One common example of how stress affects our health that I frequently educate my patients on is digestion. Digestive function is regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system responsible for calming us down. Digestive function is inhibited by the sympathetic nervous system. A common phrase used by medical community to coin these functions is “rest and digest” or “fight or flight”. Indeed when we are stressed, as while running from a tiger, adrenaline is released into the bloodstream and increases strength by releasing sugar for fuel. During this sympathetic activity blood and oxygen is shifted away from non-essential systems such as the digestive and immune systems, and more blood goes to the brain and muscles. Again, while this is important on a short term basis, chronic stress can disturb digestive and immune functions over the long term. Chronic stress also increases the amount of cortisol secreted by the adrenal glands. Cortisol helps to modulate inflammation in the body produced by the body’s response to the stress. However, cortisol also helps to control protein, carbohydrate, and fat metabolism. Chronic stress shunts cortisol away from digestive functions and this can lead to incomplete digestion, which leads to irritation and imbalance of the gut flora. What a vicious cycle chronic stress can create!
We all know that stress is part of life and have probably heard or thought many times, “I’ve got to figure out a way to handle my stress better!” There are many ways to reduce or manage chronic stress that are highly effective, such as exercise, acupuncture, massage, bathing, meditation, deep breathing, and qi gong to make it easier to hypothetically “bathe with tigers”. The research is even demonstrating that some of these activities can even change our genetic expression, which is good news to those of us who may have been born with or acquired genetic expression that increases our stress response!
One unique technique that can be used to cope with stress is called the “Emotional Freedom Technique” or EFT. This is a psychological acupressure technique that helps to remove negative emotions, food cravings, reduce pain, and enforces a positive outlook and involves a series of tapping over acupuncture points and positive affirmations. The tapping is gentle, but firm, but not so hard to bruise or hurt. Of course glasses should be removed. Taping is with the finger tips of the middle three fingers of both hands and involves 5-7 taps at each of the following points, in sequence:
1) Top of the head
2) Eyebrow- at the beginning of each eyebrow
3) Side of the eye- over the bone that boarders the outside of each eye
4) Under the eye- over the bone that is about 1 inch below each pupil
5) Under the nose- in the small area below the nose and above the upper lip
6) Chin- in the crease below the bottom lip
7) Collar bone- at the junction where the collar bone and first rib meet
8) Under the arm- about 4 inches or a 4 fingers below the armpit
9) Wrists- where they bend, use the side of the hand to tap each wrist
During the tapping the following affirmations are to be stated aloud, passionately, and repeatedly:
a) “Even though I have this _____________, I deeply and completely accept myself.” Alternatively, the second part of the phrase can be substituted with “I deeply and completely love and accept myself.” Variations of this phrase can be used instead, such as: “I accept myself even though I have this _________.” Often when we get stuck in a pattern of negative emotion and can be difficult to emerge from. The affirmations can be helpful even in these cases where we may not believe them, and I have seen these help patients shift out of these stuck emotional patterns. This technique can be used to help shift limiting beliefs, fears, anxieties, and negative thought patterns. The more specific the affirmation, the more effective it becomes. Focused intention is important for the Emotional Freedom Technique to be most effective. This is an easy and safe technique; however, a person should be cautious not to enter into emotional areas that seem threatening and should only do what feels right to them. This technique does not replace any professional help that may be warranted.
While it may seem a little esoteric, this technique is simple and can be quite calming. Sometimes it is the simple that can be most effective and this is the rational approach that Dr. Sarah Giardenelli takes as a naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist at her Collective Health Center; empowering her patients to optimize their health with natural medicine through an evidence informed approach.