Treating Anxiety and Stress with Acupuncture
We all endure periods of stress and times when we do not feel quite ourselves, but ongoing bouts of depression or anxiety can be debilitating. Unfortunately, many Americans, regardless of their background, suffer with these conditions. The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that approximately 17.3 million adults in the United States had experienced at least one major depressive episode in their lifetimes. Anxiety disorders are even more prevalent, affecting some 40 million adults in our country.
While a variety of medications are marketed to treat these issues, an increasing number of people are seeking healthier supplements or alternatives to prescriptions.
Fortunately, acupuncture has proven to be effective in diminishing/curbing/reducing the harrowing effects of depression and anxiety.
For centuries, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has relied on the mental health benefits of acupuncture. Releasing tension and unblocking the flow of energy (or qi) throughout the body is not merely a physical benefit for sore muscles, TCM teaches that those healing effects extend to the spirit as well.
As acupuncture has become commonly practiced in western societies, medical professionals have begun to recognize its positive results on patients suffering from anxiety and depression.
A 2013 study by the University of York, England demonstrated “a significant reduction in symptoms of depression” in subjects who received acupuncture along with their usual care from a mental health provider. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America also lists acupuncture as one of its complementary health practices for anxiety and depressive disorders.
How does acupuncture help? The answer is multifaceted. In TCM there is a belief that your organs – primarily the heart, lungs, liver, spleen, and kidneys – play a significant role in spiritual balance. For instance, the lungs are tied to feelings of grief. When the lungs are in balance, then just as with air, grief is taken in, processed, and then pushed away from the body. If the lungs are unbalanced, those feelings of grief can linger and become overwhelming. Because acupuncture is designed to unblock the pathways of your body’s energy it allows your organs to regain balance and to bring equilibrium back to your physical and emotional state.
Apart from Eastern philosophical traditions, there are additional aspects of acupuncture that align with Western medicine. One of the benefits of acupuncture is that it stimulates the release of endorphins. If you work out on a regular basis, you are likely familiar with the burst of energy that comes from your body producing these neurotransmitters.
Endorphins are proven to reduce the perception of pain, but they also can induce a euphoric effect on the mind. In fact, the term “natural high” refers to the feeling elicited by a rush of endorphins. The body begins to heal itself by releasing a chemical that makes you feel better, both physically and mentally.
It is well established that massage has a relaxing effect on the subject. One of the prime benefits of a good massage is the refreshed feeling that often washes over you afterwards. Less obviously, acupuncture frequently has the same effect. When patients are left to rest after the needles are inserted, many sleep or meditate. Additionally, the simple interaction with another person (the acupuncturist) in a relaxed and calming setting carries its own set of benefits.
Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety often respond best to a multi-pronged treatment. Nevertheless, you should never adjust your treatment plan without consulting a mental health professional or your primary care physician. In particular, never stop taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications without the guidance of a professional. The side effects of ending those pharmaceutical treatments can be dangerous if not done correctly.
If you are seeking, though, a drug-free way to lessen the grip of depression or anxiety, acupuncture provides an alternative that has stood the test of time.