Summer has come to an end, and fall has arrived. We’ve all got quite a few last-minute plans that we’re still trying to squeeze in before the cold weather ushers in the slower paced life, even though the clock is quickly ticking down.
Have to visit family? Want to take one last get-away before the weather changes? In the hustle and bustle of fitting these things in, and in the anticipation of losing the freedoms that summer and warm fall weather afford, we can tend to get a bit anxious and stressed out.
But how do you know if you’re suffering from anxiety or simply having temporary feelings arise? And when do you need to explore available treatment options?
Coming in many shapes and forms, your body’s reaction to stress – anxiety – may occur as a mental and /or physical response. This unease can appear as attention-grabbing, undeniable signs, such as shortness of breath and panic attacks. However, worrying, shortened attention span, nausea, fatigue, muscle tension and pain, self-consciousness, perfectionism, insomnia, sleep disorders and even compulsivity all fall in the range of normal anxiety symptoms.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to anxiety symptoms. You may have just one, you may have them all. Your anxiety can look very different from the person right next to you.
When is it time to “worry” about anxiety? Unease that occurs seemingly randomly on a regular basis or excessive enduring restlessness are signs that you should consider seeking treatment. Over time, chronic anxiety can compromise your health, emotionally and physically.
What Chronic Anxiety Does to the Body
Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. It helps us cope. However, when it becomes chronic, it can become quite a disabling disorder. At Empirical Point Acupuncture, we know that chronic anxiety can play a big role in not only muscular tightness leading to aches and pains, but it can also have much more severe effects, negatively affecting general wellbeing.
For some, that may translate into chronic dysfunction that not only keeps the mind and body in a heightened, triggered state but can also negatively impact normal body processes including menstruation, digestion, and sleep.
The body’s stress response is activated by hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, which controls the production of hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine. These hormones throttle up our system, leading to anxiety.
Once this system is stimulated, we may notice the heartbeat becomes more rapid and our senses to go on high alert. This systemic stress also diverts the body’s internal energies away from core operations, such as digestion, to the surface of the body, keeping you in a state of hyper-vigilance.
Over time, this mechanism can wreak havoc and create chronic taxation resulting in pain, immune system weakness, anxiety, depression, and an inability to deal with acute stressors.
Studies on Acupuncture for Anxiety
In research studies, acupuncture and Chinese medicine have demonstrated the ability to turn down the chronic overproduction of stress hormones in our system, returning us to normal levels.
When it comes to common symptoms of anxiety, studies show that:
- One acupuncture technique, Jin 3 needle therapy, improved plasma levels of stress hormones in people with generalized anxiety disorder at a higher rate than patients in the group that was treated with pharmaceuticals and those in the group treated with acupuncture and pharmaceuticals.
- Acupuncture may be effective for depression and other psychophysical conditions such as anxiety due to its ability to mediate the actions of the amygdala and hypothalamus that may induce symptoms.
- Acupuncture increases melatonin, your nighttime sleep hormone, which can help eliminate anxiety-induced insomnia and other sleep disturbances.
- Acupuncture is an effective complimentary therapy for cancer patients with nausea, and post-chemotherapy and postoperative pain, vomiting, and hot flashes. There is no reason to believe that this wouldn’t also apply to non-cancer patients.
So, how does acupuncture help anxiety? From the lens of Chinese medicine, how can the medical research be explained?
Chinese medicine practitioners have found that anxiety and its many expressions through physical and mental symptoms are often related to the relationship between the channels of kidneys and your heart.
The kidneys store the material and dense aspects of sustenance for the body. This becomes fuel and matter for maintaining our physical structure and form. The heart, on the other end of the spectrum, is more of a catalyst or combustion chamber for material goods.
From the ignition that the heart brings, there is energy, inertia, creation, and the spark of individuation. When in balance, these two poles create an equitable balance of supply and demand.
In the case of chronic anxiety, often the material substance and its supply has been ravaged and consumed while the fires burn out of control and unchecked. This is also the reason that many symptoms of anxiety tend to affect the chest and head.
The physical laws of nature tell us that heat rises. So, many of the symptoms of anxiety are felt and experienced as heat in the upper body, or a quickening of breath or heartbeat, often to the point of discomfort and uneasiness.
Acupuncture and other forms of Chinese medicine, including Chinese herbs such as he huan pi, dang gui, and schisandra, help to restore balance to the body systems that stress affects. Using acupuncture needles at specific points throughout the meridians in the body stimulates your body to physically, mentally, and emotionally to break the pathological cycles and to again find homeostasis, or balance.
Acupuncture therapy for anxiety is based on your specific symptoms and presentation, and as such, the locations of your needles may change from session to session and person to person.
Meditation, another tool in Chinese medicine, is also very useful for anxiety, especially when combined with acupuncture. It allows you to sit quietly and breathe deeply, not only to reduce symptoms, but to lessen our reactivity to the sensation of symptoms as they arise.
Anxiety can be debilitating for many people, and chronic stress needs to be recognized so that proactive measures can be used to unfurl the tension. Understanding your unique situation while taking the time to incorporate healthier choices and behaviors is an empowering first step. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine might be another means to aid you on your journey.
Research has found that acupuncture and other methods of Traditional Chinese Medicine can reduce apprehension and other symptoms of chronic stress, improving your wellbeing. I recommend finding a TCM practitioner experienced in acupuncture who understands the importance of mitigating excessive stress and anxiety, so that we can walk through life happier, less worried, and with more ease.