There is no separation between what is felt physically or emotionally in the body. Keeping that in mind, extreme emotional trauma can cause physical symptoms. What it doesn’t mean is that it is all "in your head", it is real! Strong emotions cause physiological changes in our bodies, especially when we are under stress. The need to fight or the need to run away causes chemical changes in our bodies to prepare us to do either. If the body is constantly under stress, our bodies can get stuck in the fight or flight mode. Acupuncture releases emotions stuck in the body - this frequently happens during the treatment itself but may occur in the 24 hours following treatment.
Here are some clues that there might be something emotional going on:
Pain that moves around or symptoms that do not have a medical explanation. Did your symptoms that start around the time of a traumatic event? Or are you experiencing common symptoms such as chest tightness, stomach aches, nausea, headaches, tight muscles or trouble sleeping? Frequently when these types of symptoms show up with no other explanation it can be a clue that they are stemming from emotional causes. The good news is acupuncture can help! We very often see patients who have had every medical test available with no answer to why they are feeling so poorly and we can help these folks.
Most people walk around with their head disconnected from their body; not aware of what’s going on until their symptoms are so prominent that they can no longer be ignored. The trick is to pay attention to what your body is saying and take action before symptoms are out of control. Building awareness takes practice! Sometimes we train ourselves to not pay attention to pain occurring in the body. This includes those who are athletic, or those who are recovering from any type of trauma. It is common for athletes and others to “push through the pain” until all current and future symptoms are ignored. Chronic symptoms can actually teach us a lot about our bodies and that we need to change our behaviors.
Most behavior changes are simple! Such as going to bed earlier or saying no to a request that has a potential to drain your energy. It can also take the form of monitoring your diet for food sensitivities. Chronic problems may never disappear completely, so acceptance is the key to changing your perspective on how you approach the relationship with your body.
Noticing how our bodies respond to different situations can be useful to determine if that is a healthy situation or behavior. For instance, if you notice stomach upset or constipation after eating dairy products, that is a clue that dairy products are not compatible with your body! Or, if you notice your anxiety spiking after staying up late the evening before it is definitely your body’s way of telling you to go to bed earlier. Paying attention to clues such as these can help you avoid major health problems down the road.
Sometimes getting to the root of the symptom is difficult. There may not be a noticeable link between an emotional origin and a physical symptom, but that may be why you are experiencing one. It is worth talking to someone and getting outside perspective to see if a physical symptom has an emotional origin. For example, if several symptoms started suddenly three months ago, think about what was going on in your life at the time for clues. The clues may be obvious to someone else, but it can be difficult to figure out on your own.
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1) Use logic to slow the anxiety spiral and then find a helper.
Many times putting your irrational fears into words and having a friend talk you through them can help reduce their power. Shedding light on darkness can make a huge difference.
2) Don’t forget your physical body
Sometimes anxiety can show up as physical symptoms. Think headaches, stomach aches, or chest tightness. Take care of your mind and your body by getting regular exercise and practicing mindfulness or breathing techniques and acupuncture. Even when you aren’t experiencing anxiety symptoms practicing these techniques on a regular basis can make managing the symptoms easier when they do show up.
3) Check your sleep
Not enough sleep or poor quality sleep can be an anxiety trigger for a lot of people. Use an evening routine to calm your body down in the evenings to prepare for sleep. Avoid screens or social media surfing 2 hours before bedtime. Try to go to sleep at the same time every night. Keep your bedroom dark, cool and quiet.
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Think about the people you spend the most time with. Are they adding to or subtracting from your life? Is there anyone who, after you interact with them, you feel consistently drained or negative? Everyone has bad days, but do you have someone in your life who is always complaining?If you have energy vampires around you, maybe consider addition by subtraction. Sometimes boundaries have to be set for people you interact with to keep them from sucking your emotional energy.
Most of us do not have unlimited energy and we need to be careful how we give our energy away and who we give it to. Be selective with who gets your time. We are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. We don’t have control over who we must interact with like family or co-workers or a boss.
The people we spend our time with are important. Its helpful to surround yourself with positive, supportive people especially when you are trying to make a life changes. Having an accountability buddy, someone with similar goals that you can check in with can help you reach your goals. Having a buddy with similar goals can also help protect you when you fall down. When you are also in charge of keeping someone else accountable it helps you stick to your goals, too.
Its also good to take some time to reflect on what kind of friend you are. Are you supportive of your friends? Are you there for them when they need you? Do you emotionally dump on them without giving in return? As women sometimes we have difficulty being direct or asking for what we want. Are you being passive aggressive or are you not feeling heard? There is always room for self-reflection and improvement for all of us.
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# 1 BREATHE
The first thing people do when they are stressed
out or anxious is to stop breathing. Our breath has
a direct link to our nervous system. When we are
breathing deeply and regularly its impossible to
feel stressed out. Put your hand on your belly and
breathe in deeply until you make your hand move
and keep breathing slowly and deeply to calm
yourself down. Breathe in for a slow count of 5,
hold it for 5 and then exhale for 5. Repeat for 5
minutes 3x/day or as frequently as you need to.
Give people some grace and practice some radical
forgiveness. Holding a grudge is like drinking
poison and expecting the other person to die.
Don’t forget to forgive yourself. We’re all under a
lot of stress and pressure right now and we all
deserve grace. Hey, that means even you.
If you are by yourself right now, it might be hard to
reach out to others but I urge you to take that step.
Think of 3 people you can keep in touch with daily
by text, phone or facetime and reach out. I’m sure
they would love to hear from you. If we all did this
no one would be alone. And people stuck in the
house with annoying family members? Reach out
to your friends or family who are at home alone.
This is one of my favorite ways to change my
perspective when I’m stuck. Make a list of 10 things
you’re grateful for and read it over several times a
day. It might be something as simple as I’m alive
or there is a roof over my head to start with but I’m
sure once you start writing you will find out there’s
Find a way to have fun and laugh. There’s tons of
funny movies on Netflix. Maybe zoom with some
friends and have a virtual happy hour with your
favorite beverage. Try a light audiobook or
podcast. Maybe a yoga class on youtube. Or one of
those adult coloring books with swear words in it.
Make sure you do at least 1 fun thing a day to keep
1 Thing to NOT Do
Don't be hard on yourself. You are doing a great job. You are balancing a lot: work, family, people’s annoying
habits and I would call getting through the day a win. We’re in unprecedented times
and in the end if your house is a mess, you can’t get google classroom to work and
English is still the only language you speak, YOU WIN. I am proud of you.
Most of the time people feel very relaxed while getting acupuncture and even fall asleep. Sometimes though, people have trouble relaxing during the treatment and even have trouble sitting still. Why is this? Am I broken? I have a secret for you: you are not broken.
Sometimes people have a hard time relaxing while they get acupuncture treatment. First of all, it's OK. I promise. The acupuncture is still working. Whether you fall asleep or not is zero indication as to efficacy of the treatment. Your body is just stuck in a habit of either go-go-go or chronic stress and its going to take a minute for your body to do something different. And that is OK.
Sometimes sitting still is scary. That's OK too. You are not alone. You are safe here.
Here is my advice. Put your phone away. Put the book or magazine away. These things just re-stimulate your brain and our goal is to shut your brain off. Don't keep turning it back on. Let your mind wander. Some people find it helpful to focus on their breathing. You can do that but you don't have to. You can't fail at this. The success is in taking the time for yourself to coax your bodymindspirit to do something its not used to. Taking time to practice self care can be really really hard- you’re doing a great job just by being here so give yourself a break. Changing a habit is hard. It takes many intentional acts before momentum kicks in and the cycle starts to build on itself and take over and become a routine to maintain. This is why it takes about 30 days to form a habit. Human beings are highly adaptable but it takes a little time for change to happen and stick: this is a good thing because if it didn't we would be all over the place.
Give it time. Have patience with yourself. When my kids were smaller, I talked to them all the time about working their "patience muscle" when they want me to do the thing RIGHT NOW, usually when I'm driving or pouring a pot full of boiling pasta into the strainer. I get you though, you don’t want to wait. Be easy with yourself and your body. It’s ok, you're a work in progress. What counts is regular practice, regular treatment, being pointed in the general direction of where you want to go and making tiny steps to get there or at least closer. You might even have some fun and a few surprises along the way.
Progress might be small, regular and incremental or there might be nothing for a while and then suddenly everything at once. Everyone is different. Context is important too. If you are going through major life stuff it might be unrealistic to expect to be completely zen right in the middle of it all- especially in the beginning. But being able to take a couple of deep breaths, peace out in a chair for 30 minutes with needles twice a week and finding the time to take a quick walk can make all the difference. This is the balm to keep you going, to get you through with as few scrapes as possible. You can do it, I have faith in you. Just keep at it. You got this. I love answering your questions!
My kids ask me questions all the time. How do they change the scary stuff inside the haunted house at Funland in Rehoboth? Which of my Pokemon is your favorite? Can you get me a bandaid? Want to have a tea party? Can I do this messy glue project on the floor of your bedroom? I revel in the simplicity of their lives: what we're having for dinner, when is swimming lessons, do I really have to share my granola bar with my sister. Their questions are so easy and they usually center around permission to do things. How to act and what to do is pretty cut and dry: here are the rules, you follow them. Simple, right?
Then we grow up of course and we realize that in many situations there are no "right answers". When faced with a decision there is no way to go back later and see what would have happened if we made a different choice. Experience helps but no amount of experience can issue a guarantee. The phrase "everything happens for a reason" sounds great, but is this simply a way to make ourselves feel better about the course of events that we have zero control over? Are we grasping to find reason after the fact in order to gain acceptance? To neatly compartmentalize in order to move out of the past? After spending countless hours thinking and discussing these and similar questions I have to conclude: I don't know. Its a process of understanding and self-awareness that takes a lifetime.
And because these "no right answer" scenarios are part of life we are faced with making tough decisions. Not doing anything is a decision too. Not knowing what to do is a situation I find myself in fairly often. I am frequently in the space of "figuring out what to say and how to act". Sometimes for a few seconds, sometimes days or even weeks. This process can be painful and emotional. Sometimes its easy. I want to discuss what to do when its painful and emotional. Here is what works for me.
PS. You can do this. I promise.
What works for you?
Meaghan Massella, M.Ac, L.Ac, Dipl. Ac (NCCAOM) is an acupuncturist, business owner and mother of 2.