Anxiety, the nervous system and acupuncture
Let’s go into what we know about the nervous system. There is no 1-to-1 comparison of Western physiology systems to Chinese, so let just be very, very clear about that. However, there are things that we know after having studied over time, there are correlations, but again, never a 1-to-1 thing. So, please don’t go saying the nervous is related to the water element; no, totally not true, because the nervous system is related to a few other elements and there are a few things that don’t actually make sense in this system.
The other thing to remember about Chinese medicine and acupuncture theory is it’s almost like we use a different part of our brain from Western to Eastern. If you look at the language, the Chinese character, typically they’re images or pictures, and that evokes a completely different thought process, completely different translation process, it’s much more nuanced, and there’s a multiplicity in terms of how those characters can be translated. That’s very different from our Western rational, this word means this thing, this word means this thing, this word means this thing.
Neither are wrong, but if you look at those different ways of thinking, you can see how Chinese medicine, there’s a big a component of metaphor to Chinese medicine, there’s a big a component of spirit and soul to Chinese medicine, and that’s why we can take a look at the system as an entire whole of who that person is, rather than just body parts and physiological systems. There’s a big correlation to the nervous system and that’s what we’re going to talk about, specifically the peripheral nervous system, because that’s when we’re going to get into a lot of stress and anxiety.
There are two parts to the nervous system, the central nervous system which is the brain and the spinal cord and the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system are all the nerves that come out of the central nervous system. The peripheral nervous system is then divided into somatic and autonomic. Somatic is what we can tell our body. I’m going to use the somatic part of my nervous system and I’m go say, hey body, bend your elbow, I want you to bring your fist to your shoulder. That’s completely under my voluntary control. The autonomic is responsible primarily for autonomic processes and responses, so that’s going to be blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, digestion, all the things that we don’t need to think about, that’s under the domain of the autonomic nervous system.
Further then, we have the sympathetic and the parasympathetic, and we want to go into these divisions because this is really relevant when we talk about the response of anxiety. Sympathetic is basically like putting the foot on the gas. If you need to get the hell out of a situation because you are legitimately afraid for your life, because there’s a tiger in the room, or if somebody is after you. Whatever it might be, your sympathetic nervous system is there to kick into high gear a whole bunch of chemical neuropeptides and hormones are released and your muscles are activated, so that you can get the hell out of that situation so that you can survive. Super essential.
However, we’re not meant to spend a lot of time there, it’s meant to be in acute situations. Unfortunately, this is where the nervous system becomes dysregulated with anxiety, it’s typically between the parasympathetic and sympathetic. So the parasympathetic is rest, digest, at ease, it’s the thing when you’re sitting around with your family, well, that might not be the best example, because sometimes families stress people out. Say you’re sitting in nature and you’re just totally loving being a part of that and you’re feeling very nourished, very relaxed, that’s your parasympathetic. We’re meant to spend most of our time there.
Responses that can become deregulated then are that fight or flight, and then there’s also another one called the freeze response. We can get stuck in a sympathetic state and our parasympathetic system, what we want to do and what we want to encourage with healing is regulating our parasympathetic nervous system and therefore anxiety via acupuncture points. The nervous system also communicates without and within, and I like this because of what we just talked about with the yin yang organs as well. They’re working in unison. Within the water element we think about the kidneys and urinary bladder being separate but the same. So again, it’s that urinary bladder meridian, and interestingly enough, and I won’t go super deep into this, we’ll talk about this in the next video, the urinary bladder meridian runs the entire length of our back right along our spinal cord, isn’t that interesting?
So, it’s assessing what is coming in and then again, it’s translating that information internally. You can think about in a sense, and again, this is maybe too much crossover into the Western from the Eastern, and that might not be a full fit, a total match, but we can think about that as the urinary bladder, that yang organ is going to assess what is coming in and then it’s going to translate that information into the internal system. Then the internal system, the kidneys are going to say this is what we want to do, we want to send these chemical and electrical signals all over the body so that we can essentially try to maintain some sort of balance or homeostasis. Again, interesting correlation, I’m not saying this is a definite thing, but we know that the adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and one thing that is super common in our culture is what we call adrenal fatigue, and that is where there has been so much stress and so much stress hormone circulating, that it essentially craps out your adrenals.