Stress and the Parasympathetic Nervous System

Evolution is paradoxical; while we humans may appear to have come a long way from our club-wielding caveman days, we still bear remarkable similarities to our, grunting forefathers. One intractable characteristic, which aided our Neanderthal ancestors in their hunt for food and avoiding their own fate as prey, is the body's involuntary release of the stress hormone, cortisol, a.k.a. the fight or flight response.
While most prehistoric potentially life-threatening disasters no longer loom, cortisol's ability to categorize threat levels has not developed much. In other words, while your boss may seem like he wants to kill you if you miss another deadline, the reality is that his urgent tone is most likely not life-threatening, but even still, your body cannot tell the difference.

The sympathetic nervous system, which runs through all of our organs, puts us on alert when a threat—real or perceived—is detected. We all know the signs: elevated heart rate, sweating, face turns red, pupils widen so that we can see more clearly if a co-worker is running toward us with a full stapler pointed at our head. Yet our fast-paced lives may include a dozen or more cortisol releasing situations every day. These may include everything from waking up from a bad dream about opening for Lady GaGa to a hideous traffic jam full of really big cars.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), emotions, especially strong negative ones, can disrupt what should be a smooth flow of energy, or Qi, throughout the body. If you are a woman or couple working to become pregnant, this can be a devastating block in promoting fertility energy.

 If the stress of dealing with infertility issues isn't enough on its own, all these other daily nips at our sanity certainly can take their toll. The effects of too much cortisol can disturb digestion, cause stiffening of muscles and joints, prevent sound sleep, suppress immune system response, and cause ongoing anxiety or even long-term depression. All of this can be disastrous to enhancing fertility and your marriage.

From a TCM perspective, the female reproductive system is a collective energy system easily affected by imbalances of Qi throughout the body. The tight blocks that stress causes can wreak havoc on the parasympathetic nervous system, which includes smooth muscle, cardiac muscle and glands, such as the ovaries. As the sympathetic nervous system responds to cortisol by causing stressed reactions within the organs, the parasympathetic system tries to process it all in what is commonly referred to as "rest and digest." But as we all know, it's hard to rest or digest when there's a steady stream of anything coming at us. This is how the blockages can form, and if not dealt with, they keep building and building and causing more damage to our bodies, making our chances of becoming pregnant less and less.

Unblocking energy can be achieved through treatment with acupuncture. TCM practice often relies on using acupuncture points to release the build up in the bodies sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. All the stress can leave residue in our bodies similar to a ten-car pile-up on the freeway. Sometimes traffic can scoot around it, but most often, there's a dead standstill until the roadway has been cleared. Think of acupuncture like the tow-trucks and emergency response team capable of getting in and clearing out the mess as quickly as possible.

Acupuncture pinpoints (literally!) the blockages allowing the energy to release and letting the Qi begin to flow smoothly again back where it's needed.  Routine acupuncture sessions can relieve the symptoms of stress build up, and in some cases, can relieve the tendency towards anxiety and stress in the first place.  The improved circulation stimulated through acupuncture can move the cortisol out of your tissue bringing balance to the body. The common symptoms of stress such as anxiety, short temper, headaches, digestive disorders and disrupted sleep can begin to disappear in as few as one or two acupuncture sessions. As the body begins to adjust to its new, stress-reduced stasis, fertility is much more likely, but the benefits extend well beyond fertility.