What is Stress?
In Traditional Oriental Medicine stress can be viewed as an excess condition like fire that overheats the body and causes dis-regulation to many major body functions including digestion, sleep, mental focus and stamina.
Body function is based on a natural rhythm of cyclical patterns – sleep, activity, eating, inhaling, exhaling and so on. Moderation and consistency is the key. Excessive or irregular patterns become stressful and can cause health imbalances. Regularity is the key to good health. A consistent schedule is required, for example; going to bed and getting up at the same time, eating at the same times each day, regular exercise, right down to simple patterns of inhalation and exhalation all can have an impact on health.
Basically, there are two types of stress – physical stress and mental stress. Most people today, particularly in the USA are stressed mentally. In older time’s people didn’t need physical exercise because they were already physically stressed walking everywhere, building their own home, growing and gathering their own food and cooking from scratch and so on.
Stress is a state of being overwhelmed to a point of affecting natural body function. Look at children for example. Young children, particularly toddlers, act very natural. They don’t understand what is socially acceptable so when they are upset or feel overwhelmed they cry out. Their feelings create an excess of qi or energy in the body like a pressure cooker. This pressure is naturally released from the body. Kids are loaded with energy and burn it out by running around and being very active but a situation that requires them to be still can be challenging. Their mind is not mature enough to regulate their energy or their speed – they tend to go full throttle until they exhaust themselves.
An adult tends to act differently. In a stressful situation, say at work, an adult needs to maintain composure. It’s not acceptable to cry out although every now and then someone is bound to snap. When a person is stressed their mind is racing – multitasking. Their mind is like a fire in the body but the body and the breathing doesn’t express this activity. This leads to what I call dis-regulation. The mind is racing and the blood pressure is probably up but if the person started breathing heavy this might look weird to co-workers. Remember the saying, “don’t let them see you sweat”? So unconsciously the breathing becomes shallow and very controlled. The body isn’t getting enough air and starts to overheat. Also muscles in the body become increasingly tense. That racing mind wants to be expressed physically but flailing arms again might look a little weird so this stressed-out person tightens up the body muscles a bit to maintain composure.
When the mind, body and breath are synchronized the body works well. This unification is something we, as Tai Chi & Qigong practitioners strive for. These health rejuvenating exercises are often referred to as a moving meditation. Conversely, when the mind, body and breath are out of sync they work against each other. This stress impairs body function and leads to disorder and disease.
Over time stress can affect other major body functions like digestion and sleep. When digestion and sleep are affected you are in big trouble health-wise. They are core functions for rejuvenating and recovering from stress and to maintain health. Some people reach for prescription drugs to aid digestion and sleep which never gets to the root cause of the problem and the person continues in a downward spiral of poor health. Chronic aches, pains and fatigue become the new normal.
Some stress we can avoid but some stress we can’t so what do you do? Support your body as best you can. A more natural approach to support health under stress is to nutritionally feed the body with highly nutritious foods and supplements to support a person’s individual needs. There’s no “one size fits all diet for stress”. Each individual has individual health challenges and therefor needs selective advice on diet and supplements to be supportive.
A professional diet consult can be very helpful in addressing such support. Acupuncture can also be helpful. Acupuncture is a very gentle, safe and effective way to deal with pain and stress and promote relaxation. In addition, you may consider learning Tai Chi or Chi Kung (Qigong) to really get to the root of the problem. Tai Chi & Qigong can train you to form a deeper level of awareness that can regulate and unify the body, mind and breath. This unification strengthens the body against chaotic patterns of stress that adversely creates a consuming fire in the body and leads to so many health issues. These are what I call natural solutions to healing and optimal health.