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Acupuncture for Anxiety

By Rob Benhuri - Dec 31, 2019 8:45:00 AM

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Acupuncture for Anxiety

Anxiety has become a very modern illness.  It is the most common mental health disorder in the US affecting 18% of the population every year, which is almost 1 in 5 people.  It can have a serious effect on daily life. 

If we look at basic instincts, fear and anxiety are created to help an animal to survive when it is under threat.  This is often talked about as the fight or flight response.   

Anxiety can be a healthy response to avoid danger or an unsuitable situation or to achieve a high level of performance.  However if the state of anxiety becomes chronic or constant then it has huge impacts on daily life and health.

What Is Anxiety?

People can experience anxiety as a feeling of restlessness, tension and nervous anticipation. Anxiety might just make someone feel weird and not themselves.  It can occur in the form of obsessive-compulsive behaviour, panic, or social problems.

There may be other more physical symptoms too.  These include:

  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Aching muscles
  • Dizziness
  • Cold hands
  • Trembling or twitching 

There might also be tension and headaches, loose bowels, nausea, asthma or urinary problems. 

Anxiety affects daily life through the inability to perform specific tasks or to be in a particular place.  This might be the workplace or a social location.  A person can become anxious when they need to make an important decision or if their work is too high-pressure or their work hours are too long.

Experts in the West recommend psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy to help anxiety alongside medication such as anti-depressants.  Medication may calm the anxiety but it is worth looking at lifestyle changes to support recovery or management of the condition.

What Causes Anxiety?

Anxiety may not have an identifiable cause but it can be due to lifestyle or hormonal imbalances. It can also be related to a specific event from the past or ongoing life.

The causes of anxiety can be vague and unclear. They may relate to a past experience which a person may not wish to remember.  This might be a difficult childhood experience or an abusive relationship. It may be caused by a particularly stressful time at work, a shock or illness, or caring for elderly relatives.  As you can see there are many possible causes.

Anxiety in Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine has several theories for the cause of anxiety.  It can be a deficiency, which causes energy to scatter causing the symptoms of emptiness.  It can also be an excess which, for example, might cause heat or energy in the head which leads to insomnia or racing thoughts. 

The beauty of acupuncture is that it treats the individual, with the understanding that no two anxieties are the same.  Ultimately, the aim is to balance energy.

The Eastern view of anxiety divides the symptoms of anxiety into the five emotions which connect to different elements and organs of the body.  The Chinese recognize the Heart as the main organ to consider with anxiety issues.  This includes the Pericardium (heart protector) as well as the Heart itself. 

Then other organs are assessed too.  Anxiety can come from fear from the Kidneys which leads to jumpiness and fearfulness or trembling, urinary frequency or loose bowels.  Fear may lead to anger which then involves the Liver system so that a person becomes irritable and tense, touchy and hypersensitive.  They may have headaches or pain, stiffness or tremors. 

Thoughts can become obsessive if the anxiety is linked to worry about the present or future. This may cause someone to experience nausea and lack of appetite.  Alternatively, a person who is worrying may seek comfort from food.  In this case acupuncture may treat the Stomach and Spleen. 

Acupuncture for Anxiety

An acupuncturist will work with you to establish how you experience your symptoms of anxiety and where they lie in your body to then work out which organs need to be treated.  Your treatment will be unique to you because you are unique.  It is likely to include supporting your Heart, Kidneys and Lungs, plus other points to give emotional stability.

The acupuncturist will take your lifestyle history in order to build a treatment plan for you.  Treatment will aim to calm the fear, anxiety, panic, or worry before then building up your energy back to balance so that the anxiety reduces. Acupuncture is not a talking therapy so you will feel no pressure to find a logical source of the anxiety; balancing your energy will do the work for you.

When feelings of anxiety arise, you can also do acupressure on yourself at a point called Yin Tang which is between the eyebrows.  Sit in a comfortable position and place your right thumb or forefinger between the eyebrows.  Use a circular motion of gentle pressure for about 5 minutes.  Other points are Liver 3 on the foot and Pericardium 6 on the forearm.

From a biomedical viewpoint, acupuncture for anxiety is believed to stimulate the nervous system. It also influences the production of the body's communication substances - hormones and neurotransmitters. The resulting biochemical changes activate your natural healing abilities and promoting physical and emotional well-being.

Hints and Tips to Help with Anxiety

When you start to notice feelings of anxiety it can be helpful to ask yourself a few questions to find a route out of the feeling.

Have I drunk enough water? An average level to aim for is about 2 litres.

Have I had enough sleep? It could be your body is in a heightened state because you are tired. 

Have I allowed my mind a rest, through exercise and meditation? A 20 minute walk during the middle of the day will allow you to fill your lungs with oxygen.  Otherwise, try a 5 or 10 minute meditation, either sitting quietly counting your breaths in and out or using a meditation app to guide you. This will help clear your mind and calm your body.

When was the last time I had fun?  Do you have a hobby you are neglecting? Do you like to read, get outdoors, go dancing, go do an exercise class or some yoga?  Or just simply see friends or watch your favourite TV show?

Finally, can you share how you feel with family or friends?

Alternatively, as well as acupuncture for anxiety, there are many talking therapies that can also help.

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