Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) sees stress as qi stagnation: Your life force has stalled. To nudge back into the fast lane, up shift your lifestyle with a more balanced diet, improved sleep routine and exercise. That can steer your health back on track while restoring your vim and vigor.
Stress erodes your health and undermines your quality of life. Western medicine views stress as a psychological issue or a psychosomatic response to what is happening around you. That is to say, it’s a physical manifestation in the body of what the mind perceives and struggles with. The negative effects of stress, then, are to be managed in various ways while you learn new coping skills.
In the East, stress is looked at in different terms. In fact, according to the theories of TCM, stress leads to what is termed “qi stagnation.” Here, qi is described as life force, which is to say the “motive force” within the body. This motive force sustains life by pulling in oxygen, expelling carbon dioxide, moving the muscles, digesting food and, in fact, propelling all physical actions that happen within the body.
When health is balanced and the body is in homeostasis, qi (energy) flows (makes things happen) smoothly and freely throughout the body. Qi stagnation — the slowing or stopping of the motive forces within the body — represents a serious condition. While qi stagnation is often temporary, or episodic, prolonged stress can make it chronic and dangerous.
Internal and external factors result in qi stagnation. A simple example of this process occurs when you eat a low-fiber diet, which stalls the motive force in the intestines, resulting in constipation. Stress is one of the biggest reasons for qi stagnation because it influences our behaviors, choices and biochemistry. The amount of stress in your life and an inability to deal with it are oftentimes directly related to your frame of mind, which relates to lifestyle choices.
Emotional constraint, frustration and festering are all common causes of qi stagnation in the liver. Poor dietary choices cause qi stagnation in the stomach and intestines. Exposure to wind, cold and damp can cause stagnation in the muscles, sinews and lungs.
Some of the many signs and symptoms of qi stagnation include: local pain, feelings of oppression or distending pain, pain along the ribs, mental or emotional instability, painful swelling of the breasts, nausea, vomiting, hiccup, dizziness, lower abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea.
Stress leads to qi stagnation because people silently grow embittered or suppress their resentments and don’t air their grievances. Stress can lead to excessive drinking or smoking, lack of sleep and poor eating choices. At the same time, the body releases hormones that affect your mood, increase the proliferation of damaging free radicals and deplete the neurotransmitter serotonin.
The classics of Chinese medicine tell us qi stagnation often occurs in the early stages of disease; disruptions of qi are often involved in the onset of illness. Thus, if qi stagnation takes place at the onset of disease and stress is a major cause of qi stagnation, it follows that stress can be considered the root cause of the imbalances that lead to disease.
It’s important to keep stress at bay so that qi stagnation does not become a chronic source of illness.
One way to keep stress at bay is to establish a routine sleep and wake cycle. This helps replenish serotonin stores in the body, gives the liver a chance to nourish blood and offers the mind a chance to shut down and regenerate.
Additionally, you can adjust your diet to help steady your mood. Eat more asparagus, which is high in folic acid and B vitamins. Beef is also high in folic acid, zinc and B vitamins (select a lean cut). Soy products are high in protein, as is dairy (but keep dairy products at a minimum).
Prepare a soy shake with oranges, which are high in antioxidant vitamin C. You can also include blueberries, which are high in fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants. Tuna is a great source of vitamins B6, B12 and protein (hold the mayo). And almonds are a great source of vitamins B2, E, magnesium, zinc and unsaturated fat.
I wish you the best of luck on your stress-free path. If you keep qi stagnation at bay and keep the motive force of life moving, health will be yours to enjoy.
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