Stress is a common experience in our daily life. We feel stress when we encounter situations that irritate our emotions. Stress causes an individual to feel tension, pressure or negative sensation such as anger or anxiety. If managed properly, stress can motivate our mental functions to a higher level. On the other hand, chronic stress can lead to both physical and mental illness.

Stress can be mild or temporary such as getting stuck in a traffic jam, or can be major or lasting such as taking care of a disabled child. The source of stress could be a sudden life threatening disaster that pushes people to the outer limits of their coping power. The September 11 Terrorist attack of NY is a good example that gave a great sum of people, both Americans and Non-Americans, a major and long-lasting stress.

Major life changes, such as lost of a family member, is the most stressful event for adults. Divorce of the parents is one of the most stressful facts to adolescents. Although getting married is a joyful event but planning the weeding, dealing with two groups of family members, and deciding whom to invite or not to may cause new couples to suffer stress.

In our lives much of the stress results from having to deal with daily annoyances pertaining to living circumstances, jobs, personal relationships and schooling. Often times, people face the same annoyances every single day. Researches demonstrated that one’s exposure to daily annoyance is actually more predictive of illness than exposure to major life events.

Stress stimulates the autonomic nervous system of the body that increases the secretion of stress hormonnes, adrenaline and non-adrenaline. These substances induce increased heart rate, constricted vassals, and muscle rigidity. Subsequently, poor circulation in the internal organs weakens the heart, and decreased metabolism occurs. Another part of the stress response involves the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland that have the function of hormone regulation. When the stress persists for a long time, and the body is chronically overactive, exhaustion results. In the end the body is vulnerable to disease and even death. Anxiety, depression, and severe emotional problems developed.

Acupuncture treatments can help the body to resolve the reactions to stress. By inserting needles in certain area of the body, the adverse effects induced by stress can be minimized or even eliminated. Acupuncture can effectively stimulate the autonomic nervous system to bring them into a balance state. The secretion of Adrenaline and non-adrenaline, the secretion of gastric acid, and the activity of bowel movement can then be regulated by acupuncture. Acupuncture also stimulates the mid-brain via the meridian as a way of regulating the secretion of hormones.

Acupuncture itself cannot make the source of stress disappear, but it can help your body, the internal organs and the mental state to be regulated and strengthened. After treatment, one will experience a sense of well-being and a fresh mind. Physically, the body will return to its normal function. Mentally, one can adapt more easily to the stress and have more control to face and even resolve it.

Acupuncture does not have chemical effects of drugs, thus side effects or addictions will not be a concern. Today, disposable and thin steel needles are used without problem of infection and pain suffering. Short courses of acupuncture can help the patients who are suffering low level or short-term stress by putting back oneself into a normal situation. For those who received chronic and long-term stress, a longer course of acupuncture treatments should be needed.

Literature review

Ladan Eshkevari et al. Acupuncture at ST36 prevents chronic stress-induced increases in neuropeptide Y in rat. Experimental Biology and Medicine. January 2012 237:18-23.

The authors designed a study to test the effect of acupuncture on blood levels of neuropeptide Y (NPY), a peptide that is secreted by the sympathetic nervous system in rats and humans. This system is involved in the “flight or fight” response to acute stress, resulting in constriction of blood flow to all parts of the body except to the heart, lungs, and brain. Chronic stress, however, can cause elevated blood pressure and cardiac disease.

Eshkevari used rats in this study because these animals are often used to research the biological determinants of stress. They mount a stress response when exposed to winter-like cold temperatures for an hour a day.

The study utilized four groups of rats for a 14-day experiment: 1. control group that was not stressed and received no acupuncture; 2. group that was stressed for an hour a day and did not receive acupuncture; 3. group that was stressed and received “sham” acupuncture near the tail; and 4. the experimental group that were stressed and received electro-acupuncture to the Zuslanli (St.36) spot on the leg.

She found NPY levels in the experimental group came down almost to the level of the control group, while the rats that were stressed and not treated with Zuslanli acupuncture had high levels of the protein. The findings indicate that EA ST36 is effective in preventing one of the sympathetic pathways stimulated during chronic stress, and thus may be a useful adjunct therapy in stress-related disorders.

In a second experiment, Eshkevari stopped acupuncture in the experimental group but continued to stress the rats for an additional four days, and found NPY levels remained low. It was surprised to find that acupuncture looks to be a protective effect against stress.