When I was in Chinese Medicine school, the vast majority of students, myself included, had enormous difficulty learning all the herbs and their functions. (There are a lot of them.) When a group of us asked Dr. Cao, one of our best professors, for tips on how to effectively learn all the herbs, her reply was "Just change your mind." When pressed further, she told us that instead of a school subject, we should think of the herbs as friends. We know everything about our friends; phone numbers, the food they like, who their friends are, who they're dating, hair color, eye color, etc. That kind of information retention happens more or less effortlessly with our friends, so why not with herbs as well? I'm not entirely sure how well I changed my mind; but I passed the national board exam in herbology, so I suppose I did ok. I would hardly describe the process as "effortless," though.
Of course, the utility of "change your mind" extends far beyond arcane topics like traditional Chinese medical herbology, and I'd like to examine one particularly useful and near-universal area in which a bit of mind-change can prove quite beneficial and effective: stress.
I don't think I've had a single patient who hasn't mentioned stress as at least a minor factor in the ailments for which they seek acupuncture. Pain, insomnia, IBS, depression, fatigue, infertility, and more all have stress-related components or can even be brought on by stress. We've all heard news reports about studies showing the adverse effects of stress on the immune system, blood pressure, sex life, and just about everything else. But research now is beginning to suggest that we've got it wrong on stress, and that the way we frame our thoughts on stress have a dramatic impact on the effect it has on us.
Most people think of the stress response as an annoyance and a problem. The adrenaline surges, we get jittery, the heart starts racing, our muscles tense. But it's important to remember that your body takes its every action to protect you. When these stress responses occur, their function is to adapt your body function to a situation where more is going to be demanded of it. Blood flow is redirected, energy reserves are tapped, all so your legs can run away from the tiger that's chasing you, or so that your brain can get that report to your boss on time.
The stress response is your friend, and new research shows that when people think about their stress response in that way, their risk of suffering traditional long term stress related conditions drops dramatically. So when you're feeling stressed, take a moment to thank your body for adapting to provide you the resources you need to adapt to the challenges of life, and then come get some acupuncture to help you relax before the next challenge. For more on these topics, check out Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal's fantastic TED talk on the subject here. How to Make Stress Your Friend - Ted Talk