Stress is a very commonly used word in society today. However, the stress that we are faced with today is very different from the stress that people were faced with a few decades ago. Humans have the built-in ability to cope with the short term stress we were faced with in the past. Short term stress initiates the ‘fight or flight’ response that our bodies were built to cope with. So when people were faced with physical danger the adrenal glands would produce a number of hormones to stimulate the necessary major systems to enhance their activity for a quick burst that could deal with the stressor.
Nowadays we are faced with long term stressful situations that are psychological and not physical. The mind however, doesn’t know the difference between short term and long term stress, and as such triggers the same response that is required for short term stress. The continued psychological stress prompts the adrenal glands to continue producing hormones for long periods of time. The hormones suppresses the organs that are necessary for normal body functioning and stimulates functions that are not necessary for normal every day functioning. This results in energy imbalances and other negative effects of stress.
The Chinese refer to energy as Chi, which is vital for the proper functioning of the bodies’ organs. Imbalances in the Chi manifests as a number symptoms. This is a sign of meridians (the energy pathways) being congested.
The Physiological effects of stress
When the body is under stress it prepares for the ‘fight or flight’ response. The hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary gland to stimulate the adrenal cortex to produce adrenocortical steroid hormones. The sympathetic nervous system is stimulated to secrete adrenalin and noradrenalin. This triggers the response of all major body systems to increase the body’s alertness. The body is affected in the following ways:
- blood circulation to the heart is increased
- blood pressure and blood sugar levels are increased
- conversion of glycogen to glucose by the liver is increased,
- blood flow to the muscles is increased,
- bronchioles are dilated,
- blood flow to the brain is increased and
- the metabolic rate is increased.
When the body is in constant “fight or flight” mode, the following negative effects take place:
- the blood flow to the digestive organs decreases
- sodium and water retention in the kidneys increases
- blood volume and therefore also blood pressure increases
- blood sugar level increases and
- the immune system is suppressed
The increased need for the secretion of hormones can also cause the eventual “burn out” of the adrenal cortex. Long term adrenal stimulation causes depletion of vitamins and minerals. This reduction in nutrients in turn weakens the immune system and other systems making the body more susceptible to illness and disease.
An Analogy of stress
Stress in the body, today, can be likened to an overload of plugs at a power point. In both instances more and more ‘pressure’ and demand is added to the main source that eventually causes ‘burn out’. The power source can be seen as the human body and the electrical appliances can be seen as the tasks or stressors that people are faced with.
When the load on the power source is balanced everything can work smoothly, without any danger, but generally it’s a case of adding more than taking away, so that more work can go on at the same time.
When more and more appliances are added to the powersource things get chaotic. More power is required from the source, this puts strain on the source. As the strain increases, the chaos increases and eventually in the mass of chaos one does not know what to disconnect.
Sometimes circuit breakers or fuse boxes are used as a safety mechanism to stop the flow of the electric current and prevent overloading, but they are not always reliable.
This is just like the stress effecting humans. Usually when we stress we are not productive because our minds are focused on being stressed rather than being productive, however, our lives cannot be put on hold whilst we deal with stress, so more work gets piled up. Medication is often given to treat the symptoms of stress, but just like circuit breakers , this medication is not always effective.
Eventually the power source gets overloaded with all the appliances and this causes the power point to burn out, sometimes even causing damage to the appliances. The power source is now useless because it can no longer provide energy to the electrical appliances. Now the power point needs to be replaced.
Just like the power point, our bodies are not all able to cope with ongoing stress. This results in disease in the body, the ‘burn out’ stage. The disease may not be as quick and easy to fix as the power point is to replace or the appliances are to fix. The disease and damage to the body’s systems usually takes a long time to heal and repair.
The effects of stress on the meridians
Prolonged stress has many negative effects in the body. One of the most common s the creation of imbalance between the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous systems. This imbalance can disrupt the flow of Chi through the meridians in the body. When the body is stressed, most of the chi is used by the meridians and organs stimulated by the sympathetic nervous system, therefore the organs of the parasympathetic nervous system do not get sufficient Chi. With insufficient Chi organs cannot function properly. The meridian congestion in the body starts showing warning signs: the external meridian congestions. When these warning signs are not dealt with appropriately internal branch disorders of the meridians manifest, these disorders are usually diseases of the organ related to the meridian.
Stress affects everyone differently depending on their lifestyle, emotional state, genes, diet and their ability to cope with stress. Diseases that may be recognised by some orthodox medical practitioners include: hypertension, diabetes, heart diseases, digestive problems, infertility disorders, sleeplessness, depression and low energy.
They link these stress related diseases to the body being under too much strain. By looking at the concept of the meridians, the reason for these manifestations is more understandable.
Stress on the meridians
Keeping in mind the principle that the meridians are the energy pathways in the body, we can see how stress can affect the meridians, and therefore the flow of Chi through the body. We saw in the paragraph above that stress disrupts the energy flow through the meridians. We also saw that there is a strong relationship between the meridians and the body’s organs. This relationship can cause the meridians to affect the organs and the organs to affect the meridians. Stress therefore has the potential to affect the whole body. The paragraphs that follow will detail the effects that stress has on each meridian and their related organs. The symptoms and warning signs will also be discussed.
The lung and colon meridians are the meridians of elimination. The close link between the two meridians may cause the lung meridian to affect the colon meridian and vice versa. Stress increases the breathing rate and therefore affects the lungs. Stress is also linked with people holding onto things, which affects the colon meridian. Congestion of the colon meridian causes patients to experience symptoms of constipation and other digestive disorders such as elimination of nutrients and keeping of waste because stress decreases the efficiency and the working of the digestive system. Other warning signs that the colon meridian is taking strain may include disorders of the index finger; itchy, sore or bleeding nose; disorders of sense of smell; wrist disorders and tennis elbow. When the colon meridian is faced with even more congestion chronic bronchial and lung disorders, disorders of the colon and weakness or pain in parts of the leg could manifest. Diseases that could manifest could include colitis, colorectal cancer and Crohn’s disease.
Warning signs that the lung meridian is congested includes disorders of the thumb and wrists and shoulder complaints. When the internal branch becomes congested patients may suffer from hyperventilation, bronchial, lung and diaphragm disorders, severe conditions relating to the index finger and acid-alkaline imbalances.
The stomach meridian is responsible for receiving nourishment and passing it on to be distributed by the spleen meridian, its’ partner meridian. Without proper nourishment and distribution the other organs cannot function optimally. When the body is under stress the proper functioning of stomach is greatly reduced. This has a major negative effect on the body because the stomach is the storehouse for the chi and nutrients of the body. Stress also affects our appetite and can contribute to the type of food we select to eat. The incorrect food selection, especially the quick convenience foods that people choose today, can lead to the body not getting the correct nutrients. Signs of congestions can include disorders of the 2nd toe, problems with the eyes, cheek disorders, snoring, mouth ulcers, tonsillitis or laryngitis, diaphragm disorders, digestive abnormalities and chronic fatigue, shin splints and knee pain. If the congestion continues to build up other disorders may occur such as adenoid disorders, difficulty in breathing, diabetes, gall stones, acid-alkaline imbalances, peptic ulcers and gastritis.
Congestion of the spleen/ pancreas meridian results in inadequate transportation of nutrients and energy. The most obvious sign of congestion is a feeling of lethargy and tiredness as digestion and circulation slow down. The spleen also governs the blood, therefore PMS and other menstrual disorders associated with stress may result from imbalances of the spleen meridian. Some warning signs of congestions may include disorders of the big toe (more on the medial aspect), shin splints, knee pains, digestive problems, stomach and pancreas dysfunctions, liver and gall bladder dysfunctions, fallopian tube dysfunctions, etc. More serious congestions may result in: dry mouth and excessive thirst, thyroid disorders, palpitations and diabetes.
The heart meridian is affected because a lot of strain is put on the heart when we are under stress. The heart meridian allows for coordination of the other meridians. Signs that this meridian is imbalanced may include symptoms of insomnia, excessive dreaming, forgetfulness, hysteria and irrational behaviour. These are all symptoms of people under excessive stress. If this meridian is congested disorders of the 5th finger, wrist disorders, numbness in the medial aspect of the arm and swollen auxiliary nodes could indicate this. When the strain increases, damage to the sclera, blindness, retinal haemorrhages, speech impediments, heart disorders, fluid imbalances and malabsorption syndromes may result. The main diseases of the heart include coronary heart disease, coronary artery disease, rheumatic fever and angina.
The small intestine meridian is the partner of the heart meridian. It allows for the sorting of the ‘pure’ and ‘impure’ substances in the body. This again shows how the body may keep or excrete the wrong substances. The kidney and bladder meridians also affect the excretion and retaining of substances. Under stress there is not much concern for this meridian organ function. Symptoms implying that there is congestion in this meridian are similar to that of the heart meridian with the inclusion of facial nerve disorders and ear disorders. When the organ becomes effected colic, diarrhoea, malabsorption syndromes problems may arise.
The bladder meridian is another vitally important meridian. If it is not functioning properly the rest of the body will be stressed / poisoned. The bladder is put under strain during stress, it eliminates more concentrated urine. The bladder meridian has effects on the spinal cord and nerves. Stimulation of this meridian is very effective in releasing tension.
Signs of stress in this meridian would start off with abnormalities in the 5th toe, oedema or sprains in the ankles, skin disorders, varicose veins and spider veins along the meridian, sciatica, haemorrhoids, back disorders, etc. If it becomes more chronic patients may experience problems with hearing, hyper/ hypotension, urinary incontinence, chronic cystitis and pain in the legs.
The kidney meridian, the partner of the bladder meridian, will also be under strain during stress, as the kidneys are working to form urine. This meridian is responsible for storing the ‘vital essence’ and regulating the fluid and electrolyte balance, secretion and absorption. This balance is not maintained during stress because we perspire and urinate more, so the body is getting rid of too many fluids that probably still contain vital nutrition. Warning signs would include burning /sweating / painful soles, eczema or fungus along the meridian path, medial calf pains, dorsal knee pains, infertility disorders and lung congestions. When the congestion builds up it could cause heart failure, arthrosclerosis, severe kidney disorders and slipped discs in the spine could result.
The pericardium meridian is involved in protecting the heart and also the circulation of body fluids. When under stress the primary place for active transportation of body fluids is the musculoskeletal system and the heart, so that the body can be ready to respond to threatening situations. When this meridian is out of balance the heart is more vulnerable, and its’ partner meridian, the triple burner meridian, becomes less effective. Emotional symptoms of imbalance include a feeling of defencelessness and we withdraw ourselves from others. These are also recognised symptoms of stress. Warning signs include deformities of the middle finger and then when more stressed include diseases of the pericardium, palmar fibromatosis. Other diseases affected by circulation include anaemia, arthrosclerosis, venus and arterial thrombosis and septicaemia.
The endocrine / triple burner meridian under stress is responsible for fertility problems. This is another huge problem in society today. When the body is under stress there are insufficient sex hormones secreted, because under stress, reproduction is not of much importance to the body. The meridian will be imbalanced because it will not get enough chi to produce the chemical messengers to be sent through the body to secrete specific hormones. Other hormones affected include the excess secretion or adrenalin and noradrenalin and insufficient secretions of insulin for the increased blood sugar levels during stress. The thyroid gland may also be affected because of stress. These imbalances weaken the immune system so the body is more susceptible to infections and diseases.
Warning signs of this meridian imbalance may include deformities of the 4th finger, elbow and wrist disorders, shoulder pains, eczema and gout around the earlobes, pain behind and in the lateral corners of the eyes. If not dealt with more serious conditions may result such as: imbalances related to the hypothalamus, pineal and pituitary gland, facial nerve disorders, body temperature dysfunctions, endocrine gland hyposecretion or hypersecretion and tumours.
Congestions of the gall bladder meridian often result in with people having short tempers. The gall bladder meridian is also said to rule decisions, which may also be why people cannot think rationally when they are angry. Trouble with digestion may also result because of the insufficient bile secretion of the gall bladder which may also be affected by the liver, the partner meridian.
Warning signs of congestion include disorders of the 4th toe, a blue puffy hip reflex, lateral knee pains, shooting pains in the body, neck and shoulder tension, migraines, cluster headaches, temple headaches and tension headaches. If congestion builds up more chronic conditions may occur such as eye disorders, vertigo, abnormal taste sensations, shingles and hip disorders. The most common diseases include gallstones and biliary colic.
The liver forms a vital part of the digestive system. During the stress response it breaks down fat and proteins for energy. The liver meridian is responsible for the smooth movement of bodily substances and therefore the impact of congestion in this meridian will affect the whole body. When the liver is not functioning optimally Chi / Energy becomes stagnant. Emotions such as anger, frustration and resentment affect the liver. Warning signs include disorders of the big toe (lateral side), medial knee pains, dark pigmentations and skin ulcers along the meridian, thigh pains, sexual dysfunctions and disorders, hepatic portal circulation disorders (which tampers with the distribution of nutrients), digestive complaints , jaundice and other liver disorders. If the congestion becomes worse people may experience disorders of the frontal lobe, pituitary and hypothalamus dysfunctions, bad breath, globus sensation, heart burn, infections of the lungs and tumors in the liver.
People under stress also experience aches and pains. This could be because the muscles are constantly ready to be activated as a response to stress, however the actions do not need to be executed because the prolonged stress is psychological. These symptoms also relate to the meridians, depending on the area of pain, as different muscles are associated with different meridians.
Stress has a major impact on the health of society. 90% of modern diseases are linked to stress because of prolonged stimulation of the adrenal glands and the effects of stress on the body. Stress causes congestion of chi, which causes imbalance. This allows disease to manifest in the body because organs cannot function optimally without sufficient Chi. Many people do not know how to recognise the warning signs of external meridian congestion along the meridian pathways and the ‘symptoms’ are often treated with medication and the underlying cause is not dealt with.
If the underlying causes are not dealt with, the internal branches of the affected meridian may become congested resulting in more serious conditions. Diseases or disorders of the organ of the meridian may also be affected.
The demanding lifestyle people lead today makes it difficult to eliminate the amount of stress we have. Adapting a healthier lifestyle and attitude may help us cope with the stress that we are faced with.
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