What Happens to the Body When It’s Stressed?
When asking “Do you have a lot of stress?” a common answer given to us at consultations is “Is there anyone who doesn’t?” Obviously it is impossible to be completely without stress since it is a reaction to the various stimuli we are exposed to simply by living. However, it is important to remember that the body’s response to stress has a certain tendency and can be found at different levels.
Normally stress can be found in 3 stages: Alarm Stage, Resistance Stage, Exhausted Stage. The alarm stage is when our body’s autonomic nerves are temporarily excited. If you get out of the situation causing stress, you will recover, but if you continue to get stressed, your symptoms will worsen. When you are in this phase you will lose your appetite or get depressed during your menstrual periods. Another symptom is an overreaction to stimuli such as vision, sound, and touch — which is commonly seen in PTSD patients. These symptoms make patients easily irritable and prone to show signs of anger. Eastern medicine treats these symptoms with drugs such as Radix Bupleuri and Rhizoma Cyperi.
In the resistance stage, the body falls into an aggressively resistant state due to being exposed to stressful situations for too long. A common reason for this kind of stress is due to blood congestion or lack of blood in certain areas in the body. Areas blood tend to congest in are the brain, heart, liver, and muscles. If the blood were to congest in your brain, you will experience symptoms such as dizziness and headache. If the blood were to congest in the heart, heart rate often goes up and causes patients to feel stuffy. When the blood congests in the liver, the pressure on the diaphragm increases, making it uncomfortable to breathe. Too much blood in your muscles causes immense sweating and causes you to feel extremely thirsty. To treat these conditions we use Ramulus cum Uncis Uncariae and Flos Chrysanthemi for the brain, Rhizoma Coptidis and Fructus Gareniae for the heart, Radix Bupleuri and Radix Scutellariae for the liver, and Gypsum Fibrosum for the muscles.
The areas where blood circulation decreases can generally be divided into the gastrointestinal tract, kidney, and the lower abdominal cavity. When blood circulation in the gastrointestinal tract decreases, the digestive function also inevitably becomes abnormal. Eating makes you bloated, nauseous, and also causes acid reflux or heartburn. Kidney abnormalities are often shown through problems with urination. You can urinate too much or not enough. You might frequently get bladder infection. In the case of the lower abdominal cavity, for females, it can cause problems in the uterus, ovary, or vagina. Medications used include Rhizoma Atractylodis and Cortex Magnoliae Officinalis for the gastrointestinal tract, Poria and Rhizoma Alismatis for the kidney, and Fructus Evodiae and Fructus Foeniculi for the lower abdominal cavity.
Lastly, the exhausted stage is when fatigue builds up and release of the hormone cortisol dramatically decreases. When cortisol release is decreased, blood circulation is hindered and metabolism is reduced, causing the body’s energy to fall. You feel extreme exhaustion, mental helplessness and lack of motivation. Your eyes become tired easily and your complexion becomes pale and you feel lightheaded. For females, menstrual flow could suddenly decrease. Appetite also decreases. The immune system becomes weaker so you catch colds more frequently, have no strength in your voice and lose your voice easily. There are many cases where the blood pressure has dropped as well. Medications used include Radix Angelicae Sinensis and Rhizoma Chuanxiong for increasing blood circulation, and Radix Astragali and Radix Aconiti Lateralis Preparata for improving metabolism and strengthening myocardial contractility to increase blood pressure.
The way our body responds to stress is extremely diverse. Treatment also needs to diversify according to these various responses. This is an obvious conclusion, but it is much easier to treat a patient who is in the reactive than the resistant stage, and resistant than in the exhausted stage. It is necessary to check whether the body is currently in the reactive stage, when it starts reacting sensitively to stress, or whether it is in the resistant stage of extreme imbalance and decline in blood due to extended exposure to stress. This is because if the body reaches the exhausted stage, the treatment period becomes longer. Therefore, we need the wisdom to take care of the health of our body and mind during the resistant stage when the body still has enough resilience and resistance to fight. We hope your body and mind are always healthy with Eastern medicine.