Acupuncture and Resilience

Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
Christopher Robin to Pooh (by A. A. Milne)

acupuncture and resilienceBy Susan Tretakis – It’s been a tough few weeks. Not just for myself, but also for my friends, neighbors and I suspect, for many who I do not know.

From the almost daily news alerts of police lockdowns due to bomb threats in local schools and parks through to the heart breaking, inexplicable, friends’ family losses due to cancer, heart attacks and traffic accidents, my phone has rung non-stop from friends and colleagues.   Add to this mix the collective shock of celebrity suicides, the non-stop South Florida rain causing a multiple of homeowner hassles, and the realization by some that expected jobs for the upcoming year have been eliminated from the corporate budget, and I can readily understand why so many of my friends are stressed – and emotionally – “down for the count”.

Last night, an out-of-state friend called to inquire how I was handing everything – as well as everyone. I surprised both of us both by saying, “I’m OK.” When then asked why I thought I was handling so much so well, my answer was simple – and immediate.


It is indeed true that Acupuncture has helped me greatly with pain, weight loss, insomnia and a whole list of tangible – and easily seen – results. However, these past weeks have demonstrated just how much Acupuncture has also strengthened my resistance and my coping skills.

Merriam-Webster defines “resilience” as “the ability to recover from and adjust easily to misfortune or change; it is the capability of a strained body to recover when compromised by excessive stress.”

The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.”

The Harvard Business Reviews defines resilience as “the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change and keep going in the face of adversity.”

We do not need experts to define resilience; too often, we experience the polar opposite of resilience. It’s when emotionally – and sometimes physically – we are just leveled, laid out on the floor of our emotional living rooms resembling day-old pancakes.

How does Acupuncture help?

Simply and holistically: “The goal of acupuncture is to promote health by restoring homeostasis in the body. Acupuncturist work along meridians that connect all parts of the body to one another. Meridians can be compared to rivers. When one part of a river is dammed up, the land further down the river cannot receive nourishment. This happens in our bodies as well. Acupuncture helps unblock the “dam” and balance the body. Science has found that meridians tend to follow various nerve, fascia, and lymphatic pathways.” further clarifies: Stressors come in many forms in our modern society, how we are impacted by them can greatly affect our health. Stress is a natural nonspecific response of the body to the various demands placed upon it. Healthy stressors such as physical exercise, learning new things both physically and mentally, when done in a balanced way, keep us alert and motivated, and support our body’s strength and vitality, thus stimulating healthy stress responses. Unhealthy stressors challenge the balances in the body and overtime cause decline in the body’s health and wellbeing.”

As a mental healthcare worker, I am familiar with the human “fight or flight” response to stress. Simply put, it is through a sequence of changes in the internal functioning of the body that brings forth the energy and strength to preserve life in the face of danger.

WEBMD identifies some of these “fight or flight” responses as “directing blood flow away from digestion and directing it towards the muscles, slow movement of food through the digestive tract, an increase in the speed and strength of adrenaline production and the entire nervous system then moves into a sympathetic mode of high alert.”

These changes are effective and powerful in the short term, but “if they continue to be engaged the body’s health starts to decline. Aspects of modern day life such as primetime news, road rage, terrorism talk, long work weeks, the frenzy of getting everything done, the pressure to do it right and meet everyone’s – including self’s – expectations, as well as financial concerns, can trigger this fight and flight response. These aspects of modern life are ongoing, so now there is potential for aspects of the fight and flight system to be engaged long term thus depleting and damaging the body. Medical studies have shown that with increased and consistent stress, our white blood cells, which defend us against viruses and bacteria, decrease.”

“Acupuncture and Chinese medicine assist the body in disengaging the sympathetic mode thereby allowing the parasympathetic system to regain command. When the parasympathetic system is in command, normal functioning of the body is restored, food is digested properly and repairs are made helping to control inflammation. The movement of the nervous system into a sympathetic mode is the initiator of the cascade of changes due to “fight and flight”, so turning it off is key to returning balance.”

Because I want to stay healthy and independent for as long as possible, and because moving into a cave or onto mountaintop in Shangri La is not an option at this time, it is essential that I keep focused on two things. First, I need to make lifestyle choices that help minimize my exposure to major stressors. Second, I need to learn a different response to stressors by changing my thoughts and emotional responses.

In “The Roots of Resilience” Lynne Jaffee writes, “Resilience is the ability to bounce back quickly in the face of a tough situation. Resilience isn’t one thing or another, but it is the sum of several pieces that make up the whole. The components of resilience are also the tools that get through difficult times, including, perseverance, optimism, gratitude, self-confidence, and strong, external support. Being able to take a step back and view the situation from another viewpoint takes emotional flexibility. Kindness and empathy for others, as well as yourself, contributes to building ones’ resilience.”

By its very nature, Life will continue to throw one hard ball after the other. The best I can do is deal in a way that least damages me. Acupuncture has given me the strength to find my balance, no matter how high the wind or turbulent the waters.

I am in awe of some people because of their ability to live fully despite great hardship. They exemplify the difference between coping and getting stuck. I have to believe that the ability to deal – to bounce back – and perhaps even learn some new lessons – is how one gets through life intact.

As a first year counselor, I used to have a child’s toy in my office. Named “Boppo”, it was a two foot tall inflatable cylinder with a weighted bottom. However hard you hit “Boppo”, it rolled upright. Acupuncture is my “inner Boppo”; I may be down, but I can come back. For a time, I may very well be leveled on the floor of my emotional living room, but I can take comfort that I am not in the basement.