by Sarah Biffen, MS, LAc

Handling Stress for the Busy Man, in a New York Minute

June is National Men’s Health Month—which aims to increase awareness of preventable health problems and diseases in men and boys. We as practitioners would like to recognize all the hardworking guys around us, and call to attention the importance of their self-care. For the New York man, stress is an inherent part of life, and is one of our city’s leading preventable causes of men’s health conditions.

You know that you’re stressed; you feel that you’re stressed, and people tell you that you’re stressed (especially those pesky non-city dwellers). It seems to exude from all facets of your life, and has the uncanny ability to assimilate itself to the point of normalcy. The city seems to spend your emotional energy like some kind of supplemental income. Extreme stress can seem inescapable and as luck would have it, is addictive! While New Yorkers tend to continually feed this craving, the truth is that, left untreated, it is extremely detrimental to men’s health. The latest medical research supports the fact that hormone spikes caused by prolonged stress in men greatly increases their chances of high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, depression, weight gain, and infertility (to name a few).

As practitioners of Chinese medicine, we treat patients in this situation every day. According to Chinese medical theory, the excessive psychological stress we internalize wreaks havoc on our Liver—the organ responsible for the smooth flow of Qi in the body. The Liver can be seen as our own personal stress regulator, but it’s also the organ most easily affected by it. The disruption of this flow causes stagnation, and we may notice ourselves developing unexpected pain (often in the ribcage  or sides of the body), the sudden annoyance of persistent headaches, or becoming prone to depression and angry outbursts. In short, if the Liver isn’t happy, chances are that neither are you.

Something that I’ve always loved about Chinese medicine is its ability to take this to task by treating people as whole beings, not as isolated conditions. Just as your individual worries are not the same as the dude standing next to you on the 6 train, neither is what will be effective for you in treatment.  Your practitioner takes everything into consideration when putting together a treatment strategy—which may include acupuncture, herbal prescriptions, dietary advice, and lifestyle modifications to counteract daily stress factors. A few simple questions tells your practitioner so much about what is going on with you internally. This is why I tell my patients that even if some questions seem arbitrary, I promise that they are not! A lot of what we do requires knowing which lead to follow, and no stress response is too small to notice. We like to treat people at their level, with the overall aim of soothing your exhausted Liver, nourishing the body, and enabling the free flow of Qi once more.

And the best part is, it will only take a few precious New York minutes 😉

Photography by Ellie Pritts 

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