Holidays can bring both good and bad stress. This year many of us will be planning family celebrations. This may create extra work in terms of shopping, decorating and preparing food on top of an already busy life schedule. For some there may be decisions about whether to travel to see family. For others there may be some tense family relationship dynamics that are challenging to deal with.
The good news is that your body has a built-in system to modulate stress. When we experience stress, our bodies increase the production of cortisol. This helps us in survival situations as it helps our heart to send more blood to the muscles, increases our alertness and suppresses secondary functions, such as digestion and sex drive, to allow us to focus on the emergency. After the stressful time, with plenty of relaxation and rest, our cortisol levels go back to normal.
However, if we experience stress on a daily basis, our cortisol levels can stay too high for too long. As a result, our production of DHEA (a hormone that is a precursor for both testosterone and estrogens) also begins to decrease. Eventually we become unable to produce the cortisol we need, leaving us feeling tired and sluggish, and less able to digest our food or enjoy a healthy sex drive.
Again the good news is that this is a regulation issue that can be restored to normal with lifestyle changes, supplements, and acupuncture.
Acupuncture is a way to push the reset button on your body’s circuitry. Acupuncture allows your body to be restored to a calm resting place more quickly. Almost instantaneously, it can release your body’s natural endorphins which can relieve pain and make you feel more calm. With multiple treatments, it has been shown to regulate your body’s cortisol daily pattern. This shows that it has a lasting effect on your body’s ability to handle stress and to regulate stress hormones. Acupuncture builds onto the inner resilience that you already have to make stressful events less stressful.
If you have been under long term stress or have other long term health conditions it can be useful to do lab testing with a functional medicine practitioner. Lab testing can tell you more about your cortisol rhythm pattern and current DHEA levels. Functional medicine practitioners use this information to give supplements and lifestyle advice to support your body’s natural ability to regulate these stress hormones. Your stress hormones may impact a wide variety of body functions including energy, mood, sleep, digestion, blood sugar regulation, libido and more.
Lifestyle changes are still important. We can’t control every variable in life but see where you CAN make changes. You may want to sleep instead of taking that overnight flight to see family (book day travel instead). Put off that last holiday shopping errand to another day if you are feeling tired after a long day. Have discussions in advance of the holiday to create family boundaries on conversation topics. Be careful with your eating habits and exercise in between holiday celebrations so that you don’t spiral out of control with overindulgence. Be proactive about whatever issues you find personally stressful.
The combination of a healthy lifestyle, appropriate supplements, and acupuncture can help you regulate the effects of stress on your body. This will support your health and also help you truly enjoy the holiday season.
Alicia Masiulis, MS, LAc, FABORM practices acupuncture and functional medicine in Palo Alto California.
Han, Ji-Sheng. “Acupuncture and endorphins.” Neuroscience letters 361.1-3 (2004): 258-261.
Huang, Weidong, et al. “Is the diurnal profile of salivary cortisol concentration a useful marker for measuring reported stress in acupuncture research? A randomized controlled pilot study.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 18.3 (2012): 242-250.