When the body feels under physical or emotional duress, it immediately responds by switching into emergency mode. This triggers a response from the adrenal medulla gland, which is located on top of the kidneys.
In what is often described as “the flight-or-fight syndrome”, the adrenal gland activates its hormone to divert blood from the temporary less important organs, to the brain, heart and skeletal muscles to prepare the mind and the body ready for action. Soon the heart rate increases and the blood pressure rises as the blood vessels constrict to limit potential blood loss.This is how our nervous system was developed to respond to potential threats since the time we were cave dwellers who had to fight for survival on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, our brain doesn’t discriminate between the different degrees of stress. We could be running away from a fire, being attacked by a bear, or just be running late to catch a plane, and the physiological response would be more or less the same.
When stress becomes a frequent occurrence, and the blood supply is constantly being diverted from the digestive organs, our digestion soon gets affected.
Since our brain is on constant alert, we have difficulties relaxing and we can’t get to sleep. We start producing more red blood cells to compensate for potential blood loss, but fewer white blood cells for building up our immunity, so we get sick more often. Soon irritability, anger or depression becomes a constant companion.
Anger stimulates more sympathetic nervous system activity than other emotions.
It increases the heart rate and body temperature, which leads to a rise in blood pressure. Numerous medical studies have shown that men with high levels of anger are three times more likely to die from coronary heart disease (CHD) than the rest of the population.
In most Asian cultures, losing control of one’s temper is seen as a sign of mental weakness. Traditional Chinese Medicine presents anger as a destructive emotion that can impact on many organs and systems in the body. In that Oriental framework, the liver, from the wood element, is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi (energy) throughout the body and the regulations of our emotions.
The ability to make decisions wisely is also associated with the liver energy. That organ is often compared to a prime minister in a government.
When the wood element loses its flexibility, we become rigid in our thinking, so we constantly struggle to adapt to any changes. Emotions such as anger, irritability, and frustration are all signs that our liver Qi is not flowing smoothly. Since the liver is responsible for the storage of blood, liver dysfunction brings up symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, eye problems and menstrual pain.
The link between stress and digestive problems is also present in Oriental medicine through the connection between the liver and the spleen. When the liver (wood) energy becomes imbalanced, it overpowers the earth element represented by the spleen and stomach, and the digestive problems become chronic.
So what can we do to avoid this destructive pattern?
Since the pace of technological progress is not about to slow down any time soon, we have to learn to accommodate our lifestyle accordingly.
Physical exercise stimulates the secretion of feel good hormones such as endorphin. We not only feel better with exercise, but we think more clearly, so we can escape the self afflicted loop of negative thinking caused by stress, which can easily turn into depression.
Of course, being very busy, organising a regular exercise program is not always easy, but let’s be honest, most of us waste at least half an hour a day looking at mindless stuff on the internet - I certainly do. Going for a brisk walk for the same amount of time can make a huge difference to our quality of life, and it doesn’t cost anything.
I remember watching a British lifestyle program from the BBC a few months ago, about a medical team who got a group of patients suffering from chronic problems such as anxiety, depression, physical pain, hypertension or weight problems to undertake a supervised regular exercise program. Some went for daily walks, one started going swimming, and the lady who faced excruciating joint pain took up Tai Qi with a Chinese mentor. The results were astonishing. Within six months most of the volunteers were able to totally get off the prescribed medication they had been taking for years with few benefits. They were a lot happier, and they looked 10 years younger.
While the whole pharmaceutical industry is built on the premise that relief is only a chemical pill away, watching that program demonstrated that making even small changes in our life can produce incredible results.
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com