Research reveals that almost 85% of all medical conditions are either caused by or made worse by stress.
It seems that everywhere we turn, there is stress in our lives…we cannot avoid it. Most of us can deal with short-term stress; in fact, our bodies are geared to protect us when we are stressed. But if stress occurs repeatedly or chronically, our bodies cannot adequately protect us because prolonged stress causes secretion of certain chemicals… catecholamines, cortisol, and interleukins…that can damage our bodies as well as accelerate aging. Research reveals that almost 85% of all medical conditions are either caused by or made worse by stress.
In actuality, it is not the stress itself that harms us…it is our reaction to the stress, emotional and/or physical, that causes the harm. If we didn’t let it bother us, we would be better off, but most of us can’t do that. As a result, our bodies take a beating. If we can’t avoid stress or not let it bother us, what can we do to circumvent harm? Fortunately, there are actions we can take to prevent its adverse effects on our minds and bodies, including several beneficial alternative methods.
Various western and Chinese herbs can calm us. Kava kava (70mg of kavalactones three times daily) is a South Pacific herb used for centuries as a relaxing tea. Although there have been reports in Europe of liver damage from this herb, no incidences have been reported in the U.S. Valerian (400-700 mg nightly) is used primarily for sleep, but is also useful for its calming effects during the day. However, you may have to take Kava or Valerian for several weeks before observing a beneficial effect. Passionflower, Skullcap (both as tea or liquid extract), and Theanine (200 mg daily) are known to have calming properties. St. John’s Wort and 5-HTP are other herbs used for anxiety, but are more effective if you also have depression. Although these herbs can potentially cause drowsiness, they generally have fewer side effects than comparable conventional medications.
Herbs can also be used in the form of aromatherapy, found in candles and heated liquids. Oil of lavender, jasmine, and blue chamomile are the most common aromatherapy products used for stress. Although these products can be found in health food stores, pharmacies, and other retail outlets, practitioners who have been trained in aromatherapy treatment can provide more specific remedies using combinations of ingredients that cannot be found in stores.
Two Chinese herbal formulas are quite effective for stress and have some advantages over the above Western herbs. Ding Xin Wan reduces anxiety as well as insomnia and depression. Chai Hu Mu Li Long Gu Tang helps reduce physical symptoms of stress such as headaches, neck/shoulder tension, and stomach acidity. The advantages of these herbals are they work very fast (within 15-30 minutes), have few to no side effects, and especially do not cause drowsiness. Because they each contain numerous herbs, however, you must take 2-3 tabs at a time.
Acupuncture for stress
Acupuncture can provide long-term relief from anxiety, as well as the physical responses to stress such as tension headaches, but only a few styles are beneficial, so make sure your acupuncturist is knowledgeable in treating these conditions. You should start obtaining relief after only one or two sessions, depending on the severity of your condition.
QiGong/Tai Chi are martial arts exercises that involve gentle motions, isometric exercises, relaxation, stretching, correct body posture, and meditation. They are very effective for reducing anxiety, as well as preventing bodily damage from stress. There are over 3000 QiGong ‘prescriptions’, so you need to find the ones that focus on stress or find a qualified instructor.
Yoga is another movement and breathing technique that is useful for stress. Much like QiGong/Tai Chi, certain types of yoga are better for relieving the adverse effects of stress than others, so find a qualified teacher to help you.
Perhaps the most effective and longest lasting relief for stress comes from mind-body techniques. These include meditation, hypnosis, biofeedback, and imagery.
Meditation is the most researched mind-body method and has definitely been proven to reduce or prevent the excessive and damaging production of cortisol, catecholamines and interleukins. It has also been verified to improve chronic medical conditions. Even meditating five minutes a day is worthwhile, although longer is better. There are two main types of meditation, concentrative (using a mantra) and mindfulness (in which you “observe” what goes through your mind.) All types are beneficial, however, and can be done at any time and in the comfort of your home. There are numerous audio tapes and books available to help you meditate, but you can develop and record your own script as well.
Doctors have used hypnosis and biofeedback for decades. Hypnosis has long been utilized for anxiety syndromes and is quite effective, usually taking two to six sessions. Biofeedback is effective primarily for the physical manifestations of stress, such as headaches, muscle tension, high blood pressure, and fast heartbeat.
Using imagery is very effective for treating anxiety disorders. There are two types, guided imagery, and interactive imagery. Interactive imagery is in its infancy, but often works faster than conventional psychotherapy. It is a very powerful method that creates spontaneous images of your emotions so you can manage them at a core, subconscious level. Guided imagery is readily available in audiotapes but interactive imagery requires a trained practitioner.
Stress can be very damaging if not controlled adequately. Fortunately, many alternative methods are available and are very effective at both preventing and treating the emotional and physical manifestations of stress.
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Dr. Altshuler graduated magna cum laude from Duke University in 1972, and received his medical degree from the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine in 1976. A board certified Internist since 1979, he founded the Balanced Healing Medical Center,...