Alleviate Anxiety and Stress with Acupuncture
All The Feels, On The Rise
It’s been a year. This strange, uncertain, and unprecedented time has, for many, brought about even higher levels of anxiety and stress. Some, who were never sufferers before, now also have experience. Recent data indicates that stress and anxiety have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A national survey by the American Psychiatric Association found that 36% of Americans say that coronavirus is having a serious impact on their mental health.1 Fears about contracting the illness, increased isolation, job loss, and financial distress have contributed to increased anxiety and other mental health problems. Frontline workers are experiencing burnout and increased levels of depression, anxiety, and insomnia.2 And, let’s face it: pre-Covid we were already the “Ugh, I’m so busy” society with stress and over-scheduling worn like a badge of honor or status symbol.
The Difference Between Stress and Anxiety
To be clear, according to the American Psychological Association, there is a fine line between stress and anxiety. While both are emotional responses, stress is typically caused by an external trigger—the deadline, the schedules, the relationship–and anxiety is usually indicated by persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even when there are no stressors. Symptoms for both are similar: difficulty focusing, fatigue, muscle tension, frustration, insomnia, mood swings, palpitations, and more.
Anxiety disorders are common, with generalized anxiety disorder topping the list and symptoms of anxiety affecting more than 40 million Americans a year aged 18 and over. Another type of anxiety disorder is panic disorder, marked by sudden attacks of extreme anxiety that may leave a person sweating, gasping for air, crying, dizzy, and nauseous. Physical activity, a nourishing diet, good sleep, proper hydration, and other management techniques such as time in nature, talk therapy, meditation, journaling, and yoga provide a great foundation for alleviating anxiety and stress. And, certainly, at times medication is warranted. Another great option is acupuncture and other forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Studies have shown that acupuncture is helpful in treating general anxiety. For example, one promising study from 20153 found that acupuncture improved symptoms in people with anxiety that didn’t respond to other treatments, even including therapy and medication. And another study4 published online in October 2013 revealed that students who underwent a 20-minute acupuncture session had less anxiety and better memory afterward than those who didn’t have acupuncture.
Unfortunately, the quality of research in the acupuncture field is variable, and more high-quality research is needed. However, some systematic reviews also show promising findings. A 2018 systematic review5 found that “overall, there is good scientific evidence encouraging acupuncture therapy to treat anxiety disorders as it yields effective outcomes, with fewer side effects than conventional treatment.”
In both Asia and Western countries acupuncture is widely used to treat anxiety. Extensive case reports from the Chinese medical literature also suggest that acupuncture protocols can reduce the severity of generalized anxiety and panic attacks.
How Acupuncture Affects You Mentally
Once you understand how acupuncture works in general (by restoring the balance of energy and blood flow in the body through specific points along internal meridians) then it makes sense that depending on where the needles are placed, acupuncture can actually stimulate the release of endorphins, which play a role in the body’s stress response. And, acupuncture has been shown to affect the nervous system and balance sympathetic and parasympathetic activities to help lessen the body’s fight or flight stress response. Acupuncture can also improve heart rate variability, which is associated with lower levels of stress and anxiety.
Of course, everyone is different and Traditional Chinese Medicine is an individualized practice. That means that in one person symptoms could lessen after the first few visits, and in another, it could take longer to see effects. That is because results are based on a person’s specific symptoms, medical history, and other lifestyle factors. Thus, two patients seeing the same Western doctor might receive the same diagnosis and prescription for medication while a Chinese medicine practitioner might provide each with a different diagnosis, advice, and treatments. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
The Bottom Line
We are sure it comes as no surprise that stress and anxiety can wreak havoc on other areas of your life and even negatively affect other health conditions. Acupuncture may be just what your body needs to help restore balance whether you suffer from stress, anxiety, or both. If a session can help lower cortisol levels, and leave you feeling calmer then you have already done something wonderful for your mind, body, and overall health.
And, you can feel comfortable knowing that here, at Healing Points, our approach to healing—whether to lessen your stress/anxiety or alleviate another condition—is always multi-faceted. Usually, there is more than one thing at play as your root cause of distress. This means we are careful and thoughtful in our whole-person diagnosis and treatment plan. Diet and nutrition, lifestyle, support systems, environment, and many other factors are taken into consideration before we devise an individual and custom treatment plan.
- Amorim, D., Amado, J., Brito, I., Fiuza, S. M., Clinical, N. A. T. I., 2018. (n.d.). Acupuncture and electroacupuncture for anxiety disorders: A systematic review of the clinical research. Elsevier. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2018.01.008