It’s official. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that 80% of Americans are stressed about the economy, 60% are angry about it, and 52% are having trouble sleeping.
It’s not news that most of us are stressed out about the economic situation. But these numbers suggest a serious health concern. In the West, we tend to take stress for granted. We are used to being under pressure, and we often think about stress as a kind of unimportant background noise, or as something that is inevitable and therefore acceptable. Or worse, we may see it as a sign of our virtue or importance. It’s quite common to hear people actually brag about how busy and stressed out they are.
Chinese medicine views stress as a very important health issue. The physical and mental tension that accompanies stress inhibits the flow of qi, or energy, causing body systems not to work properly. Stress in Chinese medicine is considered to be the source of many diseases, and to complicate and aggravate any existing imbalance or poor health.
The American Institute of Stress has estimated that 75-90 percent of visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related problems. In my opinion, Chinese medicine’s success as a preventative medicine is largely due to its effectiveness in reducing stress and its impact on the body.
Of course there is always stress in life. If you are participating in the world, and stretching your limits at all, there will be some stress, and that’s a good thing. But if it’s affecting sleep, appetite, mood, relationships, pain level, or the frequency or severity of symptoms like headaches, asthma attacks, or digestive problems, then it’s not just unpleasant, it’s important to address. See below for a few suggestions!
Chinese herbal medicine can also be a good support. There are some great formulas for reducing stress, depending on your constitution and how stress affects you. The most famous is named Xiao Yao Wan, or “the Free and Easy Wanderer”, because it releases your spirit from tension and allows you to roam happily through the world. Most of these formulas are available in pill form, so they are easy to take and inexpensive. Ask your practitioner for suggestions.
Exercise. I know, I say this all the time. But it’s one of the best things you can do to blow off steam, promote relaxation, and help your body and mind stay balanced. Often exercise is the thing we cut out when our schedule gets tight. Make it a priority, even if it’s just fitting in a short walk or dancing around the kitchen!
Maintain some kind of balance between action and allowing. It’s tempting to think we should eliminate our stress by fixing whatever it is we’re stressed out about. I’m all for constructive action, but it needs to be balanced with relaxation and self-care, or it becomes yet another source of pressure. Some things we can’t fix by ourselves (the economy, for example), and other things take quite a bit of time to change even with our good efforts. In the meantime, it’s actually more important to accept how things are at the moment and be kind to ourselves in the midst of it.
Do things that make you happy. Anything you enjoy will help get your energy flowing. Spend time with people you love; eat your favorite foods; go dancing or hiking; get a massage; see a funny move; you get the idea!