Stress is very complex, and is multi-factorial. Increased stress on the body results in increased blood pressure and heart rate, and chemical changes. It also effects coping skills, quality of life, and plays heavily into depression and anxiety and negative health outcomes overall. Long-term stress has measurable negative effects on the body in many areas: the brain and nerves, heart, stomach, pancreas, intestines, and reproductive organs. This is one reason that treatments that target regulating the stress levels in the body, hormones, and blood flow can be useful for a number of “symptoms of stress”, such as depression, sleeping problems, weight control issues, digestive problems, reproductive problems, and the list goes on. Acupuncture does not directly treat most of these issues, but rather, seeks to restore normal nervous system signalling, which in turn affects chemical messengers, including those responsible for up-regulating and down-regulating the portions of the body responsible for stress control.
The two portions of the nervous system that control the unconscious portions of our body’s functions are the sympathetic (fight-and-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous systems. The fight-and-flight nervous system mobilizes the body’s resources under stress. It is helpful for our bodies handle short-term stressful situations, but most people have the fight-and-flight nervous system in overdrive. The nervous system that controls our body when we’re resting is the rest-and-digest nervous system (which works to counteract the fight-and-flight nervous system). The balance in the nervous system is sought to be re-established with acupuncture by allowing the “rest-and-digest” portion of the nervous system to catch up and do its job by helping the nervous system to find its natural balance (“homeostasis”) with specific acupuncture points.