“It’s just stress,” is a diagnostic platitude commonly heard by patients when relaying either to friends or their doctor about some odd or non-immediately fatal symptom that lacks any conventional, empirical treatment.
It would be an over-simplification to label this stock response as wholly or always dismissive—in my opinion it is more often a result of the listeners’ lack of knowledge of physiological nuances, disease spectrums, and of course the entire internal paradigm of Chinese Medicine.
The mind is en vogue in the past generation, so much so that people jump at the opportunity to sound mentally acute even while being mentally lazy in its default citation as a scapegoat for everything, the way fat was in the 20th century or sugar is now. It makes them feel aware of the more mysterious, all while maintaining an orthodox adherence to conventional medicine’s present understanding of things. I picture people picturing themselves as if sipping a small cup of whiskey wearing Coke bottle glasses and a bowtie in their reply: “It’s (probably just stress),” then putting their cup back down and nodding their head as if they’d just cured HIV.
While no one could dispute that stress is an important variable in the etiology of most illnesses, it is also just that: One important variable. So why when we have curious symptoms that conventional medicine has no explanation or treatment for do they never say: “It’s just diet?” “It’s just your sleep hygiene?” Or: “It’s just your exercise routine that needs refinement or reduction, or simply needs to exist?”
Why when one person experiences incredible stress does it show up as digestive issues, while for another it does as insomnia, and another as hives all over their skin? “People are different,” idiots might shrug and say, which isn’t untrue, but is an egregious oversimplification. People are different, which means if we each consumed diets and partook in exercises suitable to our own individual constitutions, we’d likely be able to ward off the ill effects of short or even medium-term life stressors.
If stress causes you low back or neck pain we know there is “dampness trapped on the exterior layer of the body.” If stress causes stomach issues we know there are already stomach issues, since most or many people can endure stress without such symptoms. If stress causes headaches or migraines then there was likely already some dysregulation of cerebrovascular flow in particular neurological pathways
In this way stress can be invaluably informative, by tipping our internal scale and showing us where we are weak, where in our bodies we are retaining pathogenic fluids, so we can properly treat, instead of dismissing it. Because odd, inexplicable symptoms are never nothing. They are not “all in our minds” or insignificant. Instead, from a Chinese Medical perspective, sadly they are potential coming attractions—foreshadows of diagnoses to come.
I apologize if this sounds dark or ominous. My intention is the opposite, to offer optimism and agency to those of us who have been repeatedly implied to that we must resolve all of our internal turmoil in order to be free of a particular problem. While I am all for a daily practice of meditation, prayer, community, and anything else that reduces stress, we should be able to also rely on medical providers to step in with something more to offer during periods where our practice of psycho-emotional work and discipline just is not enough.
In a nutshell, traditional acupuncture, also known as Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM, works under the belief that the body is controlled by a flow of energy called qi traveling through pathways in the body that are called meridians. Acupuncturists believe that when these pathways become blocked and the energy can’t flow freely, various health problems begin to appear. continue reading
Just a friendly heads up, fair warning, from your local subscriber to (almost) all paradigms off the beaten path and/or beyond the five human senses: Another Mercury retrograde is upon us, to officially begin this coming Friday, September 9th; but for those of us such as myself, born under a Mercurial sign, the effects of its “shadow” and prior “pre-shadow” phases have already reared their heads around many facets of life. This will continue for the rest of September.
When the planet Mercury is in retrograde the things most known to suffer are travel, communication, and technology—recall October, 2021, when all of Facebook and Instagram collapsed and blacked out for a day—though my personal experience is just an overriding theme of carelessness and misfortune that can lead to a whole litany of problems.
For example, while mercury is retrograde I am more likely to roll an ankle, drop and break a glass, lose my wallet, or tell someone to “F off!” The latter of which I’m confident has become less frequent with age and maturity (and the astrological awareness to, take a breath—it’s just mercury)…
This weekend my brother witnessed a road rage incident on the upper east side where two drivers got so angry at one another that they took turns ramming each other’s cars as if in a video game until finally jumping a curb resulting in a collision on 2nd Avenue. Fortunately, no one was hurt. And while confrontations obviously happen year-round, I couldn’t help but flag such an extraordinary instance as partially exacerbated by the stars’ misalignment, hypothesizing: “If only one of the two combatants was more astrologically aware, he might have taken a breath and turned the other cheek (or wheel as it were) and avoided the legal, financial, and medical issues caused. For the month to come, try your best to pause before reacting.
For my part thus far, we’ve had last minute babysitter cancellations, patients arriving later than ever (you’re all forgiven!), my bed frame broke for no reason other than wear and tear, our freight elevator was down all week, as is our cable at home (grateful it happened after Serena’s match). When mercury is retrograde we should do our best to just go with the flow of such conditions, and avoid making any major life decisions or signing contracts until our perception—that is our communication with the outside world is more lucid.
The nice thing about mercury retrogrades is they are generally times when people from our past—hopefully not detested ex’es—either randomly reach out to connect or run into us randomly in public. Such “coincidences” are common, which can be fun and offer somewhat of a silver lining to these otherwise frustrating, chaotic few months of each year.
Of course, astrology is only an interest of mine, not remotely my field of expertise. To dive deeper I recommend The Inner Sky by Steven Forrest, or at least this ASTROSTYLE ARTICLE on how to mentally prepare and approach this upcoming period. Alternatively, alternative medicine is another useful coping tool for the stress that comes with astrological storms. Even if just harmonizing treatments, down-regulating our nervous system, or releasing our back and shoulder muscles, outside support is always advisable, and available. Please just give yourself an extra five minutes to get to your appointment 😊
Though many have it worse than others, my opinion is that states of depression are an inescapably subjective experience of our human condition, for which it is important to mitigate with naturally occurring “anti-depressants.” While Eastern and Western meds are often able to help us through difficult times, our long-term prognosis is bound to deteriorate if and when we concede full autonomy, and lose track of which little things make us (relatively) happy.
I don’t know any intelligent person who’s never experienced any degree of depression. This doesn’t mean I’m calling you dumb if you think you haven’t. In fact, there’s a good chance most of us could learn a great deal from you. But I think there is a degree of self-awareness and critical thought that lends itself to an organic vulnerability to a particular darkness that is an objective part of life, whether we focus on it or not.
I cannot make any specific recommendations, as much like Chinese Medicine, self-care is holistic—there is no one-size-fits-all. However, I thought I’d share some of the things that help me personally, in hopes of either inspiring or simply connecting with yours.
- Music: I think I came to gradually realize how well music mitigates my own sadness or frustration in correlation with becoming gradually more domesticated and doing more cooking and cleaning than I ever had before. I am not one of those people that is able to think of doing dishes as “a meditation.” It’s not relaxing for me in any way. And in spite of my food snobbery and nutritional counseling, if given the option I’d gladly prefer a personal chef. I do not love cooking. But both of these tasks fluctuate between tolerable and even enjoyable when done while listening to old school hip hop.
- Laughter: Duh, I know… but specifically the kind of laughter I get while talking to the funniest person I ever met, my brother. I recall struggling to get through last winter, taking my newborn for brisk walks around Jersey City when she refused to sleep, and a lot of the emotional duress of it being alleviated by talking the entire time to my bro.
- Running: All exercise of course, but from a Chinese Medical perspective, nothing “courses the liver qi” (modulates cortisol levels), better than just breaking out into a run. Interestingly, because of the potential challenge this places on the knees and heart if done to extreme, marathon-like excess, it is not necessarily something we condone long-term, but if we are young enough, strong enough, and stressed enough, it can be the perfect “herbal formula” for racing through difficult times.
- Caffeine: When I was first learning about holistic medicine I thought caffeine was something that I had to give up in order to heal, but through time and education I thankfully learned otherwise. For most people more than two cups per day is excessively drying and stimulating, but two cups or less can function as a helpful diuretic, purging dysbiosis not only from the gut, but the mind as well—hence the neurological boost we get. Although I try to be mindful of my quantity of caffeine, and stop by 11am, delicious hipster coffee has undoubtedly helped me through hard times.
- New York City: Throughout my life, whether flying in from out of town, looking down upon our unique skyline or just emerging from the PATH train station onto 23rd and 6th on a mundane Wednesday, every time I arrive in NYC a wave of contentment washes over me that I’ve only otherwise experienced on my second time flying into Paris. Regardless of my Taoist beliefs and environmental consciousness, I suppose in my heart and soul I am a city boy, which is important to be aware of. Know what kind of atmosphere makes you happy—be it nature in the middle of nowhere or bathed in the noisy chaos of manmade filth and humanity—and go there frequently.
I respectfully understand that none of these are cure-alls, for when we are in crisis, which is common and normal, we generally need help from other sources, whether personal, medical, or both. These are merely friendly reminders for that which are at all of our fingertips at all times, Paris notwithstanding.
To learn more about how acupuncture treats various mood disorders, please don’t hesitate to CONTACT US.