Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Stress by Dr Caroline Longmore MD
What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) refers to a broad range of medical practices sharing common theoretical concepts which have been developed in China and are based on a tradition of more than 2,000 years. Treatments may include various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage, exercise, and dietary therapy. Although these practices are considered alternative medicine in the Western world, they are a common part of medical care throughout East Asia, accounting for estimated 40% of all health care delivered in China.
Day to day stress is becoming more and more common, negatively affecting many people’s health and happiness. Recent medical studies have shown a direct correlation between high levels of stress and the decline of health. In order to treat stress we must understand it. What exactly is stress? How does it affect us? What are the physical, mental and emotional implications?
The East and West have different interpretations of stress. By understanding both definitions we can build a better picture of this common condition and treat it more effectively.
Chinese medicine sees stress as the inability to let go of negative feelings. When these negative feelings fester for long periods of time, you experience stress.
Western medicine suggests the idea that stress is a response to environmental demands and pressures. That your negative emotions are the result of stress. Worry, anxiety and nervous disorders increase your stress levels, you may experience headaches, chest pain, hyperventilation, fatigue, depression, dizziness and much more. This exposure to stress may lead to disease.
Chinese medicine and the concept of Qi
Chinese medicine works on the theory that Qi (pronounced chi) or energy, flows through the body like a network of roads almost like a highway system. Stress, anger and other negative emotions act like a traffic jam, blocking the free flow of energy around the body.
When the flow of Qi is disrupted, so is blood circulation leading what is referred to as Qi stagnation. This can lead to a myriad of symptoms such as; frustration, anger, poor sleep, depression, mood swings, hormone imbalance (PMT, painful periods, breast tenderness), headaches/migraines, digestive disorders, and IBS.
The relationship between Qi and the liver
We know that the liver is very important in detoxifying and cleansing the body. But in Chinese medicine the liver is actually responsible for promoting and regulating the flow of Qi throughout the body, ensuring all bodily functions work optimally.
Because your bodily functions rely on continuous flow of energy if it is block or stagnant, the result is imbalance and poor organ function, severely depleting your health and vitality.
How can we treat stress effectively?
Stress is a multi faceted complex issue, but when approached in the right way, can be treated very effectively, with safe lasting results.
Herbal medicine can be used to stimulate or suppress specific physiological processes for positive gains. Herbal tinctures are completely natural, commonly made from barks, flowers, plants, grains, grasses and roots. A herbal prescription may be used to support the nervous system, calm anxiety and aid restful sleep. Herbs commonly used for stress include Avena (oat), Scutellaria (Skullcap), Verbena (Vervain) Matricaria (Chamomile), Passiflora (Passion Flower). Herbal medicine can work very well in conjunction with acupuncture. *Always consult a practitioner before using herbal remedies especially if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Acupuncture is the practice of inserting very fine, solid needles into acupuncture points in the skin. According to TCM, stimulating these points can correct imbalances in the flow of Qi through channels known as meridians.
By stimulating the flow of Qi Acupuncture can effectively reduce stress, lower blood pressure and heart rate. Acupuncture can also stimulate the release of endorphins and serotonin improve mood and aiding sleep.
Acupressure can be performed by yourself. Using your finger to stimulating certain acupuncture points on the body helps to release stress and aid the circulation of Qi.
Point LI4 – Located between thumb and 2nd finger at the highest point of the web. Helps to release emotional, mental and physiological toxin from the body.
Point P6 - Located two inches from the wrist crease on the palm side in the middle of the forearm between the tendons, will calm the mind and spirit.
Point LIV 3 – Located in the web between the 1st and 2nd toes this point in conjunction with LI4 is used to open the channels and counteract stagnation and relieve toxicity.
By the manipulating the superficial and deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue, bodily functions are improved and deep relaxation is promoted. Massage increases Qi and circulation, relieves muscular tension and releases endorphins.
Thai Chi is a type of internal Chinese martial art, practiced for both its defence training and its health benefits. The slow, purposeful movements are found to be very relaxing, lowering stress hormones and mood disturbance. Stretching the limbs and focusing on breathing techniques helps still the mind and move Qi.
Shallow breathing does not allow the Qi to circulate properly within the body. 5 to 10 minutes a day focussing on deep breathing can help to stimulate Qi and relax body and mind. Take a deep breath, bringing the inhalation down into the belly, expanding the diaphragm. On exhalation release your worry’s and daily pressures, expelling them from your body with the breath.
Meditation is a state of deep physical relaxation and mental awareness. Practiced for both health and spiritual reasons meditation can very extremely effective in reducing stress and lowering the pulse rate.
- Do not eat after 8pm
- Eat small and frequent meals
- Try to eat organic, especially animal products
- Make sure you are relaxed and not stressed or anxious when you eat
- Chew your food well to aid digestion
- Incorporate herbs into your cooking to help move Qi – turmeric, caraway, rosemary, chive, mustard leaf, thyme.
- Eat more cruciferous vegetables – cabbage, broccoli, kale etc
- Greasy fried food
- Spicy food
- Refined carbohydrates
- Excess alcohol