Mental Shifts as Seasons Change

woman_fruit_basketThe Local Power Company offers ‘Worry Free’ Service on home appliances with an advertisement that reads: ‘Enjoy Life with our Protection Plan’. I like to think that acupuncture represents an analogous protection plan for worry-free health!

Stress is one of today’s biggest health problems because stress is chronic and the body’s stress response was not intended to be continuously engaged. When someone is under chronic stress, it begins to negatively affect physical and mental health. And with so many sources of stress, it is difficult to find time to relax and disengage. Everyone has stress in one form or another: work, money, health, relationship worries, and media overload.

Acupuncture can’t eliminate stress, but it can improve your body’s response to it.

New research of the human brain is providing important insight into why chronic stress affects the brain and mental health, and how early intervention can help prevent the development of certain mental health problems. This important connection has been realized for hundreds of years through Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In TCM terms, it is the Spleen Qi that largely manages ‘worry’ in our lives. The TCM Spleen is also responsible for providing warmth and vitality to the body energy for the immune function, and mental energy that enables vigor and creativity.. The Spleen belongs to the Earth Element and its main season is late Summer and early Fall, though every seasonal transition can be considered Spleen time.

More predominantly it is the summer to fall transition when many people wonder ‘why do I feel so tired?’. Alas, their Spleen Qi may need balancing!

Periods of prolonged stress, unhealthy or irregular eating habits, cold weather, cold food, mental worry and mental over-work (such as studying for exams or spending long hours in class) can tax and damage the Spleen, causing a condition called Spleen Qi Deficiency. This condition may be further characterized by loose stools, fatigue, decreased immunity and weakened digestion, such as bloating and gas.

In order to protect the Spleen, prevent Spleen Qi Deficiency and optimize digestion, schedule regular acupuncture sessions and use the following guidelines*:

  • Stimulate the Spleen: The TCM Spleen is stimulated by sweet taste, as is the pancreas, which is stimulated to release insulin by rising blood glucose levels. However, too much sweet taste will damage the Spleen over time (consider how elevated blood sugar can cause insulin resistance). Small amounts of sweeteners and cooked fruits can provide a little bit of stimulation and energy to the Spleen, aiding in digestion and mental power.
  • Eat slowly and mindfully: Taking the time to properly chew food reduces the amount of work that the digestion organs must do in order to break down food. Relaxing the mind and body during meal times activates the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system, which optimizes the body’s ability to properly digest food.
  • Eat frequent meals: Small, frequent meals are more easily digested than large, heavy ones. Proving the body with energy in the form of food every few hours or so prevents blood sugar crashes and weakness.
  • Eat warm, cooked meals: Food that is warm and cooked decreases the work of the digestion system, which must warm up food to break it down. Precooked and warmed foods, such as soups, and stews, are more easily absorbed and create less work for the Spleen. Avoid raw, cold foods, which are more difficult to digest.
  • Promote digestive fire: Having some raw ginger before or during meals or adding warming spices such as black pepper, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon to food helps increase the Spleen’s ability to digest food properly. Eating pungent foods such as onions, leeks, fennel and garlic also help increase the body’s digestive fire. Seasonal, well-cooked root vegetables such as winter squash, carrot, rutabaga, parsnip, turnip, sweet potato, yam, pumpkin, and legumes such as garbanzo beans, black beans and peas are easily digested and nurturing to the digestive system.

We all have the ability to change our relationship to stress with discipline – in both thought and physical action. Acknowledge your stress, detach from the consequences (to avoid what psychologists refer to as “catastrophic thinking”), and shift your fundamental belief by emphasizing the meaning of a life situation to give meaning to stress (instead of highlighting stress as damaging to your health). Practice mindfulness and other centering exercises: the Earth time of year is a time of centering, unity and harmony.

Feel how to disengage from your stress by balancing your body and mind using acupuncture.

*Always consult with your Acupuncturist to understand which guidelines work best for you.

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