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When is Stress Actually to Blame?

 

 

I feel like in the 20th century no one was talking about stress as an etiology for disease. Possibly I am guilty of generational egocentricity, having barely reached the drinking age by 2000. Thankfully, I had very few young friends discussing ailments and how they came about.

Still, I think it is more referenced, even over-diagnosed nowadays, especially by western doctors any time they cannot explain a symptom or its etiology, shrugging shoulders and throwing their arms up, citing the most probable suspect. “Might just be stress,” they say, which for its listener might feel an implication that their complaint is a fabrication of the mind, if not something that can only be resolved or improved once everything in life is good, or they achieve spiritual enlightenment, neither of which are in the cards for most of us this go around.

While I’m all for patients having agency over their own health, things happen that are out of our control—an accident, post-viral symptoms, genetic predispositions, or just life—when it helps to have a knowledgeable clinician to provide valuable insight and hopefully effective treatment.

In Chinese Medicine stress is said to have a drying effect on the body. This is why when people “stress eat” they crave “damp-causing foods,” such as cheese, bread, and sugar.

Unfortunately, such foods do not generate healthy fluids, nor is stress-induced dryness the kind that will drain pathogenic dampness. Instead, the drying effect of stress refers to the depletion of mucosal organ fluids, beneficial stomach fluids (anyone get acid reflux or diarrhea when over-stressed?), and/or those that lubricate our orifices, gyri and sulci of the brain. Although hydration is advisable, drinking water cannot replace these fluids.

In early stages or mild cases, the best way I know to restore such fluids is through rest, sleep, and the consumption of eggs, bone broths, or red meats. For the rest of us herbal medicine is necessary. Herbs such as ginseng or licorice for the gut, puerariae root for the head and neck, ophiopogonis for the intestines, atractylodes for the intestines, trichosanthis for the orifices, or rehmanniae for the brain and blood. Always consult a (real) herbalist before taking.

Although extensive periods of stress are never helpful, it is important clinically, to thoughtfully discern between when stress is, and when it is not the primary cause of a particular symptom. Almost everyone in modern society has at least moderate degrees of stress, yet everyone is walking around in enormously different stages of health or discomfort.

From our perspective, when stress directly brings up a symptom, it informs us that dryness is probably at its root of imbalance. The body couldn’t tolerate any further depletion of fluids. Then, and only then, is when stress is to blame—not to mention the fact that most disease is multi-factorial. Systemic dryness is likely only part of the picture, which is why many people “do all the right things”—exercise, meditation, good sleep hygiene—but still experience symptoms. Because it is almost never “just stress.”

 

This article was posted in Acupuncture, Depression, Emotional/Psychological Disorders, Fatigue, Pain, Pain Management, Self-Care, Stress. Bookmark the permalink. Follow comments with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are closed.
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