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Does acupuncture treat anxiety?

Updated: Feb 6

Can Chinese medicine and acupuncture treat anxiety? Yes.

Actually people are usually surprised by how relaxing acupuncture is. Who would think sticking needles in your body would be relaxing?!

But it is.

One of the basic ways that acupuncture does its magic is by nudging your nervous system into its parasympathetic mode, our rest and digest mode. This happens from acupuncture rather we are treating anxiety, back pain, or anything else. It is just part the mechanism of acupuncture to get us relaxed. Many of my patients notice the change in their nervous systems, they feel the switch into their relaxed mode even before all of the needles are placed!

In this way they develop a better ability to relax on their own by simply remembering the feeling. Sort of like how our bodies can remember how to ride a bike even after many years.

Relaxing is a skill that can be learned, at least once the system is calmed down.

Our bodies do their healing when we are relaxed. In fact we do most of our physical repairs at night while we are asleep. And this is reflected in the Chinese medicine advice to be sure to be asleep by 11:00 at night to really rebuild our blood, to really refill our tanks so to speak.

The protective ‘wei qi’, sometimes translated as our immunity functions, circulates on the outer aspects of our body during the daytime protecting us from disease factors we encounter we encounter in the world. At night this protective wei qi follows our blood as it returns inward from our muscles and into our liver and core as we sleep. Then the blood along with the wei qi circulate within our inner organs and repairs wear and tear during the night.

It is dangerous when this nightly repair cycle is impaired. This is why sleep apnea, which is when we stop breathing over and over as we sleep, leads to multiple organ failure. Or organs aren’t getting a chance for maintenance and healing because with apnea we don’t get solid sleep.

So relaxation is a basic function of acupuncture, when treating anxiety or anything else.

Specifically when treating anxiety I look at what exactly your symptoms are.

Do your face or ears get hot? Do your hands get cold? Does your heart or mind race? Do your hands shake? Do you get a lump in your throat? What about abdominal pain or diarrhea? Nausea? A tight chest? Do you get dizziness or en empty feeling in your head? Do you sweat during an attack?

The list goes on. Anxiety is a word that describes a number of different patterns which each have different treatments. My job is to read your bodies clinical picture in order to match the pattern of symptoms with their appropriate treatment strategies.

For example when treating panic attacks, which are one type of disease that falls under the umbrella of anxiety, we divide the problem into three main types by symptom clusters. Panic attacks are called running piglet in classical terminology because all three types of panic attacks have a characteristic upward rushing feeling. This feeling can start below the belly button or higher in the abdomen and surges upwards into the chest or even the head. This is created by pressure on the abdominal aorta, but the other presenting symptoms will vary.

We have to factor in rather the body is also hot and dry, cold and dry or cold and wet. All three of these situations may lead to panic attacks and all three need to be treated differently.

This way of looking at the health of the over all body environment is characteristic of Chinese medicine. Every disease we have happens within the context of our overall health and constitution and must be treated as such. This is what is meant by ‘individualized treatment’. Each treatment has to be individualized because even if two people are having ‘panic attacks’ their symptoms, the weaknesses of their bodies and other health factors will be different.

If there is digestive involvement, pain or poor sleep these will likely need to be addressed as well. Not as a separate treatments but within the overall treatment approach according to the diagnosis of the anxiety. With acupuncture the side effects should be that other aspects of your health improve as well.

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