Stress management

With us leading such hectic lives, stress has become inevitable. But is stress always bad for us? Surprisingly, the answer is no. Eustress is a term for good stress– it produces a positive feeling of excitement that keeps us motivated. On the other hand, when stress is much more than what we can handle, it becomes excessive and results in you being stressed out; i.e. distress. 

The causes of stress

Where does the feeling of stress come from? 

Stress is usually triggered by certain events in your life, which may involve:

  • Facing abrupt changes
  • Having a situation out of control 
  • Worrying about things
  • Feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities
  • Being in times of uncertainty.

Common stressors:

External Stressors Internal Stressors
  • Long hours working/studying
  • Tight deadlines
  • Major life changes e.g. a death of a loved one, relationship changes
  • Financial worries
  • Pessimism
  • Negative self-talk
  • Rigid thinking, lack of flexibility
  • Unrealistic expectations/perfectionism

All of the above can lead you to stress and may subsequently affect your mental or physical health. Where possible, you should try to avoid these sources of stress to maintain good health.

Stress from a TCM point of view

In TCM, the five zangfu-organs govern five kinds of emotions respectively. (Heart 心 – Joy 喜, Liver 肝 – Anger 怒, Spleen 脾 – Contemplation 思, Lung 肺 – Grief 悲, and Kidney 肾 – Fear 恐) .

If there is an imbalance or if our zangfu-organs are not functioning normally, we may feel certain emotions more regularly. For example, someone with liver fire may be frequently angry/ irritated.

The human body expresses emotions when under stress. However, a sudden increase in stress levels or chronic stress can potentially harm the zangfu-organs as it exceeds the threshold that the human body can usually withhold emotionally and physically. When the zangfu-organs become imbalanced, illness arising from emotional distress may occur consequently.

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Emotional stress is able to affect qi movement in the body. According to ‘The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine’ : ‘Qi is able to cause illness when its movement is irregular, anger drives qi upwards, grief dissipates qi, fear causes qi to collapse, and contemplation causes qi stagnation’. (“百病生于气也,怒则气上,…,悲则气消,恐则气下,…,思则气结。” – 《黄帝内经》,  Metabolism in the body becomes compromised when qi movement is in disorder. Pathogenic factors accumulate and eventually form behavioural discomfort.

In addition, physical fatigue and bad body posture over a long period of time, when coupled with a compromised internal body condition will cause aches and pains.

How can stress can affect our body:

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Self help tips to de-stress


Acupressure is an ancient form of massage treatment in TCM used to stimulate the acupoints without using needles. Stimulating these acupoints help to promote the circulation of the qi and blood around the affected area and also along the respective meridians for health benefits.

Below are some acupoints that can be used to treat possible symptoms caused by stress. 

Method: Locate the acupoint. You may use either your thumb or other fingers to gently apply pressure to the acupoint until you feel soreness. Next, gently massage the acupoint in circular motions for 2 to 3 minutes.

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Tea Series

Here are some herbal teas that you can make when you are feeling stressed out. 


Neck stretch : helps to ease the tension around the neck area and promote blood circulation around the neck area and also increase blood supply to our head and brain.

Suitable for relieving symptoms like Headaches, Dizziness, Stiff neck and shoulders

  1. Stand tall with both arms at the side.
  2. Place your left hand over your head and your fingers to touch your right ear.
  3. Gently pull your head towards your left shoulder until you feel a stretch in the right side of your neck.
  4. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
  5. Release and return your head to the center.
  6. Repeat steps 1 to 5 using your right hand.
  7. Do 2 to 3 times on each side.

Child pose : A famous yoga pose that reduces tension around the neck and back area. It can also help with relaxing the mind.

Suitable for relieving symptoms like: Stiff neck and shoulders, Lower back pain, Emotional stress, Insomnia

  1. Position both your palms and knees on the ground in a “crawling” pose and place the back of your feet on the ground.
  2. Slowly sit back on your heels while extending your arms straight. Keep both your palms flat on the ground.
  3. Hold in this position for 60 seconds and focus on your breathing to release the tension around the neck and back area.
  4. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat steps 1-4 3 times.
  • 4-7-8 Breathing exercise : Simple and easy exercise to reduce anxiety, tension, and help manage stress

Suitable for relieving symptoms like: Emotional stress (Anxiety, Irritable, Depressed), Insomnia, Stiff Shoulders.

  1. Sit comfortably on a chair with your back straight resting on the back rest.
  2. Exhale completely through your mouth.
  3. Close your mouth and inhale gently through your nose for 4 seconds.
  4. Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  5. Exhale completely through your mouth for 8 seconds. 
  6. This is one breath. Inhale again to begin the second breath repeat steps 1 to 5. 
  7. Repeat for 3 breaths to complete one exercise. 
  8. Do this exercise twice a day.

Note: Information provided is not a substitute for a physician or any form of medical care. Individual symptoms differ due to different body constitutions and diagnosis. One should consult a licensed TCM practitioner for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Article by Physician Chelsea and Physician Hao Li

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