Acupuncture for Anxiety
Updated: Jun 2
The CoViD-19 pandemic has changed our lives in ways that we could not possibly have imagined six months ago. These enforced but necessary changes may have resulted in feelings of increased anxiety in many of you. Sleep deprivation or eating/drinking habits which have altered during lockdown are just a few examples.
Irrespective of the underlying cause of anxiety, traditional Chinese acupuncture may be able to help more than you think. The reason for the anxiety may or may not be clear to the sufferer but feelings of fear and worry can become unrelenting, causing a level of anxiety which can then start disturbing sleep and affecting your daily life. Physical symptoms of anxiety may include increased heart rate, shortness of breath, headaches, insomnia, panic attacks, digestive disorders and pain, to name a few.
Anxiety UK list the psychological symptoms of anxiety as follows:
Thinking that you may lose control and/or go “mad”
Thinking that you might die
Thinking that you may have a heart attack/be sick/faint/have a brain tumour
Feeling that people are looking at you and observing your anxiety
Feeling as though things are speeding up/slowing down
Feeling detached from your environment and the people in it
Feeling like wanting to run away/escape from the situation
Feeling on edge and alert to everything around you
In order to cope with these feelings, the sufferer will tend to use avoidance tactics. That is, avoiding the things or situations that provoke these feelings. The trouble with this response is that it tends to reinforce the feelings of fear of a given situation, rather than resolving them.
Recent studies show how acupuncture outperforms conventional drugs in the treatment of anxiety. Both Western and Chinese medical perspectives appear to agree that anxiety has its root in fear. We become afraid of what might happen - in a number of different circumstances - activating our 'fight or flight' response. If this response continues to be activated, a cascade of physiological events follow, resulting in a suppression of the normal function of the immune system, amongst other things. This explains why we become more susceptible to catching colds, 'flu' and suchlike when we are going through periods of stress.
Our bodies are naturally replacing and regenerating at a cellular level. However, if this level of stress is sustained, it may also lead to an increased susceptibility to disruption of healthy cell growth and replacement, plus a slower resistance reaction and a steady release of cortisol into the bloodstream, eventually leading to exhaustion.
Some may say that anxiety is a feature of modern life, but if this is to be accepted then living with anxiety becomes the 'norm'.
How acupuncture may help
According to the British Acupuncture Council, research has shown positive findings for the treatment of many different forms of chronic anxiety, including post traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders and musculoskeletal pain. Recent evidence has also shown that acupuncture treatments have a great effect on reducing anxiety and depression when compared to conventional psychotherapy and pharmacological approaches, with more than two times the reduction in symptoms.
How does it work?
Acupuncture has been shown not only to calm the response of the hypothalamus (part of the brain), which releases neurochemicals when the body is under stress, but also to increase the levels of endorphins which regulate the body's emotional and physical stress responses, positively affecting heart rate, blood pressure and also perceived levels of pain. The calming and relaxing effect of acupuncture is often commented on by people trying acupuncture for the first time. They regularly seem surprised by how relaxed they feel during and after their treatment.
The stress releasing effects of massage are well known, so combining a treatment of acupuncture with specific massage techniques may also encourage a reduction of anxiety symptoms and insomnia. Perhaps you or someone you know may benefit from trying a natural, traditional, tried and tested treatment approach in relieving the debilitating symptoms which can be caused by anxiety.
Merck & Co., Inc. (2003) Merck Manual of Medical Information, Home Edition (2nd edition) London: Simon & Schuster
International College of Oriental Medicine, (ICOM) (2019). Dalziel, A. The physiological response to fear and anxiety from Western And Chinese medical perspectives and implications for acupuncture treatment. West Sussex: ICOM