Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The S(tress) Factor
You would think that being in the healing profession, I would not fall prey to the ever present "stress" that sneaks in here and there and everywhere. Well, I do. And I'm sure you do too. You hear people talk about stress all the time, at work, at home, at the gym, wherever, but what does it actually mean to your body? At some point 5 gazillion years ago, we needed stress to survive. The "flight or fight" response was beautifully created to save us from saber toothed tigers and whatever else was out there threatening our survival: our heart and lung function would speed up, blood flow to the heart and muscles increased significantly, digestion would slow or stop, muscle tension increased, the bladder relaxed, inhibition of erection was triggered, loss of HEARING! occurred, and tunnel vision became all you saw. We still have this fight or flight response ingrained in us and many of these triggered reactions are initiated by "stress", which is, as we all know, present in all our modern busy lives to some degree. Sometimes it helps us get through a big presentation or deadline, and sometimes it leaves little indelible foot prints that need to be addressed or they will accumulate and overtake us.
Understanding and knowing all this, it is pretty clear we need to find ways to deal with stress and to treat the effects of it on our bodies. There are long lasting consequences if you don't. There is a reason that either the saber toothed tiger got us back then or we simply didn't live past age 30. In many ways the quality of our lives has improved given that there aren't any more tigers (for the most part) hunting us down, but if there is one thing that should be managed it is our perceived reaction to stress factors. On occasion a little fight or flight is fabulous, we've all felt that surge in energy and burst through our work or an emergency situation to get to the other side. However, there still are the continuous stresses which our bodies react to in a low grade and constant fashion that leave us needing a little respite. Stress manifests in a myraid of manners (not all of which are exclusively stress-related but can definitely be created by stress) : high blood pressure, acne, high cholesterol, digestive issues, tight and painful muscles, ear aches, impotence, difficulty breathing, anxiety, TMJ, grinding your teeth at night, depression, increased risk of heart attacks, decreased immunity, headaches or migraines, insomnia, and irritability. 43% of adults "suffer adverse affects from stress" and even more than that head into a doctors office trying to figure out why they are experiencing any of the above listed ailments or symptoms.
There are many ways we deal with stress that can be detrimental : overeating, drinking too much, chain smoking, and violence (at times). There are also many ways that we can deal with stress and it's effect on us in a healthy manner. From the TCM perspective, Acupuncture is a wonderful way to combat any symptoms which may be occurring as well as to stimulate the feel good endorphin release and give our bodies and our adrenal system a break. Exercise also relaxes us and releases endorphins. Meditation teaches us and our bodies to come back down to a relaxed state and reduces the after-affects of stress. These are just some of the things you can incorporate into your daily life to help you with stress.
What about food and stress? In Chinese Medicine you would want to focus on foods which are moving and increase circulation, often these are bitter or warming in nature, they can also be sour and green (the flavor and color which correlate to the liver, which is the organ related to stress). In Western Medicine, magnesium is one of the primary minerals in charge of reducing the effects of stress by nature of it's ability to increase circulation and smooth the flow of muscle (i.e. relax those tight muscles). Magnesium also increases calcium uptake which is significant in terms of osteoarthritis and any condition which relies on calcium uptake. It just so happens that many of the warm, bitter, green, and sometimes sour foods are also high in magnesium : dark leafy greens, seaweeds, whole grains, nuts, and cocoa (yes, CHOCOLATE!! preferrably in the dark form).
While I have already written about many magnesium-rich foods such as kale, sardines, and chocolate, to name a few, today I wanted to touch on mustard greens. Mustard greens (Brassica juncea) are just as they are called, from the mustard plant. Mustard greens are considered warm with a pungent flavor in TCM. They are excellent in treating lung conditions (such as asthma), as well as for moistening the intestines in cases of constipation. These greens also increase circulation (thanks to magnesium in part!) and dissolve stagnant or congealed blood (which can manifest as sharp specific pains). You should use mustard greens with caution if you are in the midst of a hemorrhoid attack or have inflamed red eyes, or any other excess heat symptoms according to TCM.
Mustard greens are very bitter so sometimes it's nice to add them into something that has a slight sweetness and have the two flavors balance each other out. I made mustard greens in rice and served it with a sweet onion and thin sliced steak stir fry. It was perfect. You can also pair that up with a white sweet fish, some chicken, a bean stew, or whatever else you deem might work.
1. Add rice to pot, use approximately 2 large mustard green leaves (per cup of rice) that have been washed, I took out most of the large stem portion, and chop relatively finely
2. Add water according to how much rice you make, sprinkle generously with sea salt or substitute water with chicken stock for a heartier sweeter version
3. Cook covered and once it is done, stir the greens into the rice and serve