Stress is a normal response of the body to unwanted stimuli. These can be physical, mental or environmental. When stress becomes continuous with little reprieve it can elicit negative body responses. Often it can affect your health without you realizing it, e.g. headaches, heartburn, insomnia and memory problems. Thoughts and feelings are also affected which in turn influences your behaviour. Left unchecked it can lead to more serious problems, such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure.

AFP6E1 Silhouette of a woman sitting by a window in a dim room and holding her head

Complementary therapies focuses on interactions between the mind, body and spirit. Unlike conventional mainstream medicine, it focuses on the overall well-being of the patient. Practitioners believe that assisting the body to self-heal enables it to reinstate the body’s natural balance and function, therefore minimizing or removing the problem. Depending on the type of therapy there are a range of concepts and philosophies, ranging from qi (energy) channels in acupuncture; energy chakras in yoga and reiki; plant based essential oils in aromatherapy; manipulation and body work in massage, osteopathy and chiropractic; mind-body approach in meditation and hypnotherapy.

There is strong research evidence that links the emotional state to the immune system’s systems ability to resist disease. During periods of stress corticosteroid hormones are produces which lowers the number of lymphocytes (immune cell) circulating in the body. The stress hormone corticosteroid can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system (e.g. lowers the number of lymphocytes). Stress has been blinked to headaches, lowered resistance to infections (e.g. coughs, flu), diabetes, gastric ulcers and cardiovascular disease. This was confirmed in one study which found that people with higher stress levels and low moods exposed to the cold virus  were more likely to become ill.

Cancer studies on the use of complementary therapies consistently suggest their value in improving mood and quality of life. Reduction in stress and anxiety could be the reason why they are also able to cope better with treatment side effects. In a qualitative study of twenty-two patients using spiritual healing for patients with irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, patients found the experience calming and relaxing, which lasted for a period of time after the sessions. A variety of physical effects with reduction in severity of pain, bloating and improved sleep. There was less anxiety and greater confidence in their ability to cope. Yoga over a period of 8 weeks in ulcerative colitis patients reported reduction in joint pains and lowered levels of anxiety. A study on rats effectively relieved anxiety disorder with electro-acupuncture. This was related to demonstrable changes in the levels of circulating immune cells. Another researchon forty seven patients with chronic pain (who also have higher levels of stress and anxiety) found longer term benefit in incorporating mindfulness meditation into their treatment plans.

Inevitably experiences and effects of complementary therapies are unique to each person and their health status. Generally, most people experiencing stress can benefit from them, but even more so if there are more serious health problems. It offers an opportunity for people to to be more proactive about their own health. Those who approach this with an open mind and a long term commitment to a lifestyle change will always experience much greater benefit.

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