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Recently I got some unwelcome news that will add to my workload. Stressful news. The kind of news that makes me want to revert to college-coping strategies, which involve sweat pants, a t-shirt, a half gallon of ice cream and someone to listen to the drama in my life.
I can’t do that, though. I’m a grown-up, and I’ve decided to act like one. Thankfully, I am also an acupuncturist who can use what I know of natural medicine to deal with stress. I bet you get “half-gallon-ice-cream-sweat-pant-drama” kinds of news, too, from time to time. One of the easiest ways to turn stress around is with visualizations.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, (I’ll call it TCM from here on to save my fingers), keeping your qi, or energy/nerve flow/life force, healthy and moving is the key to health. Stress causes the qi to become blocked. In TCM, we say prolonged qi blockage can lead to problems ranging from headaches to digestive problems to tumors. Let’s do a quick exercise to see how your mind can help you open your qi and deal with stress.
What does it mean to have blocked qi? I’ll show you. Close your eyes. Picture yourself driving a gorgeous car down a country road, great tunes from an amazing sound system filling your ride. The trees are green, there are luscious fields with flowers and cows, and you let down your window to feel the fresh air blow through your hair. You take a sharp curve and–BAM! you slam on the brakes for a garbage truck. That’s belching smoke. And dripping unmentionable refuse. It stinks. You have to slow down. The road is too narrow to pass. And the truck. Crawls. In. Front. Of. You. Feel that catch in your chest? That tightening in your neck? That’s blocked qi.
If you can imagine a scene and feel it clearly, think how powerful it is when it’s real. And constant. When you tie your mind up fretting over a stress–whether it’s pain, a bad relationship, or a problem you can’t solve, your body gets stuck in “blocked qi mode,” which over time can cause all kinds of problems.
Now let’s get that qi moving. Close your eyes. See that garbage truck. As it crawls by, the guy on the back jumps down and comes towards you. About halfway between you, he stops, turns so he can see in front of the truck, and beckons you to drive towards him. When you do, you see a small driveway where you can pass the garbage truck. He smiles at you as you go by, and pulls on the brim of his baseball cap. You’re on your way again! It only takes a minute for the fresh air to pull the trash smell away, the lush countryside soothes you, and you settle into a nice drive, thinking of the friends you are meeting at the end of your journey and how much fun you will have.
What did we learn from our little visualization? We can control our qi movement with our mind! So when you are stressed, try visualization. Imagine scenarios where your stress works out for good, or picture your problem as a baseball that you bat out of the park–anything to help you feel that flow again. Imagine yourself holding a baby, or on the beach. Your brain will react to the pleasant images, and stop the loop of anxiety, irritation, and even hopelessness that prolonged stress can cause.
Visualization will not solve all your problems. But it can give you some breathing room from the mental, emotional, and physical effects of stress, which gives you time to reframe your problem as an opportunity and get on with the joy of life.