Instead of trying to reduce stress… focus on maximizing your capacity to recover!
Lately, many of my clients in the clinic are feeling overwhelmed, with stress levels reaching all time highs. This is often expressed as, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore” or “I can’t do this anymore”. They often have friends and therapists that help them make plans to reduce stress. This makes sense, and can be helpful, but I’m not sure this is the best approach.
I start asking questions about what time they go to bed, what they have for breakfast. I can identify many areas to improve. I gently remind them to shift the emphasis to focus on ‘building-Yin’ or, as I would explain it, ‘increasing your capacity to recover’. When you have a strong ability to recover you respond differently to stress. It does not overwhelm you because you are not weak. You make decisions from strength, and that changes the outcome.
We need to focus on building strength, and that strength comes from ‘building-Yin’ to deal with all the Yang. These two forces need to be in balance. With an excess Yang (stress) to Yin (recovery), we have two choices, reduce the Yang or increase the Yin. The ancient warriors saw little option in reducing life stressors, and focussed on maximizing Yin-building to be able to deal with greater levels of stress.
Stress has a powerful ability to create change and there is a clear positive view of stress in Chinese Medicine. Like in Tai Chi, we need this stress in order for the body to evolve. The body is designed to release forces when stressed, that if the body was never stressed would never be released. This stress facilitates growth potential. Think of the tension between Heaven (Yang) and Earth (Yin) that promotes all the growth on the planet. Balance is key.
Now, let’s be clear, too much stress, or stress (Yang) without adequate recovery (Yin), takes a massive toll on the body and the Blood becomes deficient and depleted leading to weakness, imbalance and illness. We naturally think we need to reduce the stress, however, before we attempt to change what the world is throwing at us, the Daoist perspective is to look inward and make sure we are doing everything in our life to maximize our Yin-building activities, to better handle stress. Many people think they can give up drinking, eating junk etc. but few are examining the real keys to ‘building-Yin’. Chinese medicine has been exploring these ideas for thousands of years.
Straight Bamboo’s Top Keys to Building-Yin (How To Better Manage Stress):
- Chinese medicine says that the most productive sleep is from 9pm to 3am. Make sure you are sleeping during these times to ensure strong Blood. Strong Blood is the key.
- Get up first light, drink a big cup of water, use the restroom, and get into the body with physical exercise.
- Eat a hot easy to digest breakfast.
- Do your most important tasks of the day before midday. Yes, they are most likely your least favorite, but necessary tasks.
- Substantial hot meal for lunch, followed by a rest. 1-hour lunch break good.
- Finish work around 5pm.
- Dinner also hot-cooked meal, should be lighter and a good habit is to pack lunch for the next day.
- Sleep 9pm.
Technically, ‘tension’ is generally considered good and ‘stress’ as bad. These are relative terms and there are situations of too much tension which creates stress – which has a pathological effect. However, much of what we refer to as ‘stress’ could be termed ‘tension’ if our Blood was stronger. This tension could be used to facilitate higher levels of growth within us, if we are focussing and following on maximizing our capacity to recover. Remember, humans are designed for tension. Try using the word ‘tension’ vs ‘stress’ and that may also help you focus on what you need to be doing to better handle the situation.
And final thoughts, stress (ideally with proper recovery) is much better than it’s opposite – a life of comfort, being lazy, sitting around with little to do, using the computer in excess compared with our bodies – this life creates very weak Blood and is going against what you were designed for.
Tension can be good!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Tan L.AC. is a licensed Acupuncturist. After completing his degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Alex lived and practiced Chinese Medicine for 10-years in Beijing, China. A native-born Australian, the son of his Australian mother and Chinese father, Alex’s bi-cultural heritage helps him skillfully bridge Eastern and Western health perspectives. He believes the true power of Chinese medicine lies in a balanced approach towards prevention and treatment. Rooted in Chinese Medicine observation based theory & methodology over millenniums, Alex’s talent lies in delivering these Eastern healing modalities to his modern Western clients. For more about Alex click here
Alex runs a clinic in Flagstaff, Northern Arizona. Alex welcomes comments and questions to his articles. To schedule an appointment in person or telco-appointment click here