We started back doing acupuncture at the office a couple months ago . However, in early April we’d gotten tele-health visits up and running. What have I heard from EVERY patient I’ve spoken to? “I’m SOOOO anxious right now! It’s not usually THIS bad!”
So, if you too are having anxiety or depression, racing thoughts or a generalized feeling of unrest, let me reassure you that this is totally normal. In fact, if you haven’t experienced any of these emotions, it’s most likely they’ve been repressed. It actually makes total sense for you to have heightened emotions right now.
Let’s review what is happening in the brain when our body is under circumstances of stress:
It all begins with the Hypothalmus/pituitary/adrenal axis, which involves a series of interactions between endocrine glands in the brain and the kidney, which controls your bodies reaction to stress. When your brain gets alerted of a stressor, your HPA axis is instantly activated. Cortisol is released, which is the main stress hormone in the brain. This happens so your body can make a split second decision and get yourself out of perceived danger. Acute cortisol release is no problem. The issue is when we have high levels of cortisol over long periods of time. Chronic stress increases the activity level and number of neural connections in the amygdala, your brains fear center. As levels of cortisol rise, electric signals in your hippocampus deteriorate. The hippocampus is associated with learning, memories and stress control. It also inhibits the activity of the HPA axis. When it weakens, so does it’s ability to control stress. Cortisol can literally cause your brain to shrink in size which results in the loss of synaptic connections between neurons and the shrinking of the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that regulates behaviors like concentration, decision making, judgement, and social interaction. It also leads to fewer new brain cells being made in the hippocampus. This means that chronic stress makes it harder for you to learn new things.
The good news!? We can also utilize tools to REVERSE the affects of stress! Exercise, meditation and acupuncture are a few. These are tools to get our nervous system to STOP releasing cortisol and instead give us our daily DOSE (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphins) of the brains happy chemicals. These tools have been actually shown to increase the size of the hippocampus thereby improving memory and the capacity to think clearly, learn new things, and respond calmly to outside factors.
Be an advocate for yourself and your mental health. You have the tools you need to shift your reactions to stress. Breathe deeply, give and receive love fully, let yourself be in awe of nature around you, and as always, get yourself acupuncture to relieve some of your anxiety’s hot air!
Here’s a great blog on the HPA from a brand of supplements called Integrative Therapeutics: