“My brain went empty…”
“Did I snore?”
“I’m not sure if I fell asleep?”
These are a few of the common comments I get from patients after an acupuncture session. Surprising for a lot of people – who envisage an acupuncture session to be uncomfortable at best, torture at worst.
Why so relaxing?
Well, acupuncture affects the autonomic nervous system – the part of nervous system responsible for tasks outside your control. The beating of your heart, digestion, perspiration, moods.
The autonomic nervous system is split into two parts – the sympathetic and parasympathetic. Sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the fight or flight response. Heart rate speeds up, anxiety levels increase as you look for danger. The parasympathetic nervous system in contrast is responsible for essential bodily processes such as digestion, breathing, circulation.
It’s thought the calmness that follows an acupuncture treatment is due to calming of the sympathetic nervous system. On its own this can be enough for people who suffer anxiety with no obvious trigger. If anxiety has a trigger – social situations, driving, work, going outside. These activities need to be carried out whilst in a calmer state. You need to be exposed, to a certain degree, to the trigger, to create these new neural pathways, new ways of behaving when exposed to stress.
Once repeated these behaviours can become habits, forming new neural pathways. This ability to adopt new behaviours is known as functional neuroplasticity.
There are permanent changes in the synapses following self-development and learning. I think it’s hugely exciting. It means that if you put the work in you can change the way you behave and interact.
This Anxious Generation
Our current “always on” society gives us little time to just escape and “be”. Even a quiet walk in the country or by the sea can be interrupted by Facebook updates and text messages. This downtime is important for our health and creativity.
Our brains need downtime to process the thoughts and emotions from the day. If you’re having a lot of vivid dreams and nightmares this may be a sign that you’re not creating enough time in your day to process emotions and difficulties. Depriving yourself of this downtime can lead to stress and anxiety, struggling to cope with the demands of a hectic daily life.
Historically stress is a short-term response to a potential life-threatening situation. In hunter-gatherer days this may have included being attacked by wild animals. In small doses and in the right situation stress is useful. Blood pressure rises as blood and oxygen are sent to the muscles and brain to improve function. The process of digestion and saliva production are shut down. After all who needs to digest food when your very survival is threatened?
These are useful responses to a short-term threat.
Chronic Anxiety – The Bad Side
Whilst chronic anxiety is not good or healthy, small doses of short-term stress have been shown to boost the immune system, improve resilience and help in creating new habits. Stress mildly challenges systems which adapt and becomes stronger as a result. You don’t get stronger without lifting weights, stressing and breaking down muscle so it can re-grow. In a similar vein it’s very difficult to become resilient without exposing yourself to stressful situations. However, these situations must be limited, and you must have time to recuperate.
Otherwise you can find yourself in a situation of chronic stress. Chronic stress is a destructive force. Stress raises cortisol a hormone that raises blood sugar levels and cuts off functions that are not needed in a fight or flight situation – digestion, immunity & repair. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to understand the damage to your health resulting from high blood sugar levels and poorly functioning immune and digestive system.
Any Upsides to Anxiety?
Reframing anxiety as a force for good in your life to get you through short term “threats” can be useful. In its simplest form anxiety shows you care. If you’re anxious about your work, it shows you care about the quality of work you produce. If you’re anxious about what the future may bring it shows you care and value life.
Whilst this technique of reframing does not abolish anxiety it can lessen its impact whilst you put in place therapies or techniques to deal with problems longer term.
To contact Tim: www.goweracupuncture.co.uk or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 07764 254881