Stop the Insanity! Asian De-Stressing Secrets

Between work, family and friends, errands and running your household, it's easy to see how stress can build and build until you feel on the verge of collapse. In fact, according to a recent study by the American Psychological Association, women continue to report higher stress levels than men and are more likely than men to say their stress is on the rise. What's more, stress doesn't just take a toll on your emotions; it can lead to very real and dangerous health issues.

According to Traditional Asian Medicine (TAM), stress, otherwise known as ya li, is directly connected to the liver. This organ is considered vital to promoting the smooth circulation of vital energy, or qi (also known as chi), throughout the body. Now couple that with what we know from Western medicine – that stress leads to tension buildup in the shoulders, causing pain and headaches.

There's more. The increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol caused by stress also lead to shallow breathing, stomach pain and indigestion, and premature aging of the skin. The good news is that Traditional Asian Medicine techniques can help minimize stress and help you manage it. Here's how:

  • The Two A's: Acupuncture and acupressure, used commonly in Traditional Asian Medicine, can induce a relaxation response, lowering the heart rate and blood pressure, increasing energy and tissue regeneration, and reducing stress. As a result, you feel more relaxed and your digestion improves. As the tension is relieved, so are headaches. And instead of being tense and angry, you may find you're better able to stay calm, control your temper, and remain on an even keel. Regular treatments can even help with high blood pressure. Further, studies have shown that acupuncture effectively normalizes the levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.

  • Say Om: Take a page from ancient Sanskrit and turn to meditation to help calm your body in times of stress. Meditation affects the body in exactly the opposite ways that stress does - helping you center yourself and focus on deep breathing and a feeling of peace. Doing this, even for a few minutes, can help regulate your body's response to stress and reduce feelings of anxiety.

  • Make a Move: Sure, boot camp and spin classes are great for a cardio workout, but try mixing things up by slowing down and practicing the ancient Chinese art of Tai Chi Chuan (also known as tai chi), a martial art that combines soft, gentle movements with diaphragmatic breathing and relaxation. Tai Chi Chuan has been practiced for thousands of years in China to improve health and well-being. Recent research has confirmed that it can improve mood, lower blood pressure, improve heart function, reduce pain, relieve fibromyalgia symptoms, and improve balance.

  • Go Herbal: Fight the insomnia that often comes with stress with traditional Asian herbal blends. Formulas such as Jia Wei Shao Yao San (Free and Easy Wanderer) and Tian Wang Bu Xiang Dan (Celestial Emperor Pill) are two of the many safe and effective Chinese herbal blends used to help you relax and fall asleep. If you'd like to try one, ask a board-certified Chinese medicine practitioner (look for the designation "NCCAOM").

    An herb from Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of traditional medicine, called Tagar or "Indian valerian," can act like the hormone melatonin to help rest the body and mind. This should not be confused with melatonin supplements, which claim to help you fall sleep. There is no scientific evidence behind this claim, and in any case, your aim should be to relieve stress and relax so you can fall asleep naturally.

    During the day, skip the coffee. A single cup can have up to 200 mg of caffeine, which can increase jitters and contribute to anxiety. Opt instead for Chrysanthemum tea, which can help lower blood pressure and relieve headaches, among other benefits.

Eastern remedies and techniques like these, which have been used for thousands of years and helped countless people, can have a real impact on your state of mind (and consequently your behavior), taking you from zany to zen. And remember, stress can easily get out of hand and do a lot of damage to you and those around you. If your stress becomes too much to manage, you are not alone. Talk to a trusted friend or loved one, or consider turning to a professional for help.