The Chinese say that the emotions are the cause of 1,000 diseases.
When it comes to stress, this adage is right on the money. For that reason, I ask every patient that comes through my door about how much stress they are experiencing.
Some own up to being stressed and others live their lives relatively stress-free.
Occasionally, I will have a patient who is so tightly wound they’re about to snap, but will deny being stressed at all. How can this be?
Don’t they know they’re ringing the stress bell?
Physical Symptoms of Stress
A few years ago, I had some insight into those poor overwhelmed souls. It was a time that was not kind to me.
It was winter, I was working too hard, and things were breaking. Lots of things, like washing machines that wouldn’t agitate, crashing computers, leaky roofs, and auto accidents (plural — everyone was fine, thank you).
I thought I was sailing right through this mechanical revolt, but interestingly, as I look back, I was having some odd physical symptoms during that same time.
First of all, my teeth hurt.
One in particular was zinging me every time I drank something even a little bit cool. At the time I chalked it up to some dental work I had about six months prior, and thought that things should have calmed down by now.
Additionally, I was having this funky pain under my ribs that was actually making it hard for me to sleep.
What was that?
Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, I realize that I was far more stressed out than I had let on to myself.
The upside to that time however, is that the stress is now gone and so are my weird symptoms. The other upside is that time led me to delve a little deeper into the effects of stress.
Frequently, we don’t know just how profoundly our stress is affecting our physical health.
Signs of Stress from Chinese Medicine
With that in mind, here is a roundup of unrecognized physical symptoms caused by stress, mostly through the lens of Chinese medicine…
As soon as my life calmed down, my teeth stopped hurting.
I realized that I was clenching my teeth to the point that they hurt. Tooth clenching can also manifest as a sore jaw, TMJ problems, a stiff neck, sensitive teeth, or in extreme cases, cracked or broken teeth.
A sensation of heat
In Chinese medicine, extreme stress creates energetic stagnation, much like your car seizing up.
If you’ve ever witnessed a car seizing up, (I have), you’ll know that there’s some heat involved with the lack of movement. Many women don’t recognize this heat as stress, because it can feel just like hot flashes.
However, I’ve treated stressed out men who were having what felt like hot flashes, too, and I know it wasn’t menopause.
In Chinese medicine, irritability is a kind of heat.
Heat speeds things up, and when you feel like the rest of the world is not moving fast enough to suit you, or not responding to your every need, it’s usually the heat talking.
A bitter taste in your mouth
This also happened to me, and was actually the tip off that I was plenty stressed by all the dead machinery.
At first, I thought maybe I getting a cold, but in fact, that bitter taste is another spin off of the stagnant heat I was experiencing. The taste in my mouth was almost like I ate something burnt.
Your Chinese Liver is the organ system that governs the smooth flow of everything in your body. Good health is all about flow, and when things are not flowing well, you may feel it under your ribs.
Well, the Liver pathway ends right up under your ribs, and tight, achy or stabbing rib pain is a sign of Liver energy stagnating.
Serious menstrual cramps and/or PMS
As a general rule in my clinical practice, the worse the stress, the more “eventful” a woman’s menstrual period.
This may include irritability, cramping, or homicidal feelings. Remember, it’s all about flow; when one thing isn’t flowing (emotions and stress) not much else flows well, either.
Loss of appetite
Again, this is about flow, but in this case, it’s digestive flow. Any new and unwelcome changes in your digestion, especially a loss in your appetite can be a sign that you’re more stressed than you realize.
Under stress, your body turns down the volume on some of the functions you don’t need to survive right this minute, in order to ramp up others you might need.
Unfortunately, your immune system takes a hit when you’re stressed because you don’t need it for immediate survival. If you find yourself catching every cold and flu going around, it’s likely that you’re stressing.
Sleep disruptions and weird dreams
Your body recharges itself while you sleep.
However, if you are consciously or subconsciously rehashing some event, situation, or problem, your sleep is going to suffer.
The end of my story is this…
Once I got things repaired, replaced, and the snow off the leaky roof, my life returned to normal, except the bitter taste in my mouth and the rib pain.
After the “aha” moment that I was suffering from stress and lack of flow, I had an acupuncture treatment. After the treatment, the rib pain went away immediately, and the weird taste about a day later.
Back to normal.