Acupuncture Can Reduce Anxiety

The holiday season is here and for many people that means traveling, visiting family, and spending time with loved ones.  It can also mean flight delays, getting stuck in traffic, rehashing old arguments, and getting trapped in an endless conversation about football, health insurance, or politics with Uncle Larry (no offense Uncle Larry).  In other words, while the holidays can remind us of how much we love our families, this can also be a time of stressful situations and high anxiety.

What exactly do we mean when we say anxiety? Basically, anxiety is a feeling of not having control over a situation.  It can be clinically diagnosed, or not; and it can range in severity from feeling occasionally panicked to experiencing phobias, obsessive thoughts and behaviors, or post-traumatic stress related symptoms. When receiving acupuncture for anxiety, it is not so important to give your anxious feelings a specific name or diagnosis.  What is most important to your acupuncturist is what kind of thoughts you are having when you experience anxiety and how it feels in your body?  Acupuncture is very effective in treating the body and mind at the same time.  It is helpful to have some information about how your unique body and psyche are interacting to cause your specific anxiety symptoms.

As an example, some patients tell me their anxiety symptoms are all in their head.  That is not to say that the symptoms are not real, but that they feel as though all their stressful thoughts are trapped in their head and are not body-related, or somatic, at all.  Others feel many bodily sensations when anxious such as rib cage/chest tightness or shortness of breath, rapid or irregular heart beat, or nausea (butterflies in the tummy, anyone?).

Pharmaceutical medications such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines are effective at managing daily and acute feelings of anxiety for many people.  However, many of my patients tell me they do not want to take these types of drugs because they do not like the way they feel while taking them or want to be on them long term.  Acupuncture can be an effective alternative for managing anxiety and being used in conjunction with pharmaceutical treatment. After an acupuncture treatment you will feel more relaxed and balanced. Many people believe that acupuncture makes them feel more like “themselves.”

You may be wondering how sticking tiny needles into the skin can help reduce anxiety.  Researchers have been studying this phenomenon for decades and here is what they have determined.  Acupuncture can help moderate the release of neurotransmitters and hormones such as cortisol (a stress hormone) and ANP (a hormone secreted by the heart that communicates with the brain and adrenal glands). Acupuncture directs the central nervous system to shift into the parasympathetic state (rest and digest) instead of the sympathetic (fight or flight). This ensures that your body carries out important functions instead of being on high alert.  Additionally, acupuncture decreases physiologic stress in the body by increasing heart rate variability.

Anxiety is often coupled with insomnia or sleep disturbances.  This can make for a vicious cycle. More anxiety makes it harder to sleep and the less you sleep the worse you feel physically and psychologically.  The good news is acupuncture can help you sleep, too!

Be sure to visit either your regular or Naturna acupuncturist before, during, and after the holidays so you can fully enjoy the much needed rest and relaxation you deserve.

References

Errington-Evans N. (2015). Randomised controlled trial on the use of acupuncture in adults with chronic, non-responding anxiety symptoms. Acupuncture in Medicine, 33:98-102.

Goyatá, Sueli Leiko Takamatsu, et al. (2016). Effects from acupuncture in treating anxiety: integrative review. Revista Brasileira de Enfermagem, 69(3), 602-609.

Reilly, Patricia M. et al. (2014) Auricular Acupuncture to Relieve Health Care Workers’ Stress and Anxiety: Impact on Caring. Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing. 33 (3):151–159.

Sparrow, Kristen. (2014) Does Acupuncture Reduce Stress Over Time? A Clinical Heart Rate Variability Study in Hypertensive Patients. Med Acupunct. 2014 Oct 1; 26(5): 286–294.

Wang SM, Kain ZN. (2001) Auricular acupuncture: a potential treatment for anxiety. Anesthesia and Analgesia, 92(2):548-553.

Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. (2015). Mechanism on atrial natriuretic peptide receptor in anti-anxiety with acupuncture based on its tranquilizing effect, Jan;35(1):101-4.