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Mental Health in the Age of COVID-19

Mental Health and Covid
Mental Health and wellness in the age of covid 19 Illustration by NICOLE HWANG

Our country is finally emerging from the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we still have a long way to go. Schools have not yet fully opened and many businesses have closed permanently. More than half a million people’s lives are being mourned, while Long Haulers — those who manifest COVID’s symptoms long after its typical course — continue to suffer both physically and emotionally. 

The psychic after-effects of the virus have been profound. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that about 4 in 10 adults in the United States reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive order, a fourfold increase from the year before, and that a separate tracking poll found adults suffering numerous impacts including difficulty in sleeping and eating, increases in alcohol and substance abuse, and worsening chronic conditions due to stress and worry over the virus. The result has been an increased demand for therapy to treat anxiety and depression, and increased physical manifestations of emotional stress.

Making matters worse, fear and confusion about the virus led to a troubling decline in patients keeping appointments for routine screenings and annual checkups, and as a result preventive care that would normally have detected emerging illnesses was simply not done. Patients previously dealing with heart disease, diabetes, and other pre-existing chronic conditions similarly postponed essential treatments out of fear of contracting the virus or saw them exacerbated by their stress reaction. Chinese Medicine can successfully treat all of these conditions.

Treating COVID-19-Related Stress, Anxiety, Depression, and Insomnia

COVID-19 has led to worry, grief, loneliness and isolation, and anger. The body responds to these emotions in many ways, including changes in appetite or energy, indifference to things that previously made us happy, insomnia or nightmares, exacerbation of chronic conditions, and more. Chinese Medicine approaches the physical body and our emotions as a confluence of energy running through channels in the body, allowing anger or sadness to affect the organs and manifest in physical symptoms.

The effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of anxiety and stress has been studied and confirmed. Researchers have revealed the release of endorphins produced by acupuncture needles, as well as the flushing of stress-related hormones that create an inflammatory effect that can worsen chronic conditions and awaken dormant symptoms. By itself, acupuncture creates positive change in brain activity. The combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbs has been clinically proven to improve sleep and defeat insomnia, while acupuncture in combination with antidepressants provides greater relief greater than that experienced with the medication alone.

Treating the Symptoms Experienced by Long Haulers

Long Haulers experience a range of troubling symptoms, including muscle pain, residual cough, fatigue, digestive issues, loss of taste, rapid heart rate, and brain fog. The reasons for this post-viral syndrome are unclear, but one theory is that the body’s inflammatory system has remained in an elevated state, leading to a cytokine storm response similar to those seen in autoimmune diseases. While Western medicine practitioners are working to find a remedy for these post-COVID symptoms, Chinese Medicine has been proven effective at “quieting the storm” in those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus and other cytokine-related illnesses, and is now being investigated as a potential treatment for Long Haulers.

Acupuncture’s approach to both degenerative and autoimmune diseases is based on an understanding that they represent disruptions introduced by environmental influences, and that these disruptions need to be countered and balanced to bring nourishment to the afflicted areas of the body. Scientists believe that acupuncture’s success in treating these conditions reflects a regulating response from stimulated nerve cells.  Chinese herbs are also used to cool or warm the body or slow metabolic activity.

Treating Chronic and Acute Conditions Exacerbated by the Pandemic

One of the most concerning effects of the pandemic has been the dramatic decrease in patients seeking screening, diagnosis, and treatment of both chronic and acute conditions. Fear of exposure to the virus kept more than half of adults away from any type of medical or dental care during the height of the shutdown, surgeries were canceled, and even complex cancer treatments were modified. These delays allowed many of the symptoms that patients were suffering to worsen and delayed diagnosis and treatment of complex conditions, while the various stressors imposed by the pandemic exacerbated some patients’ suffering.

When patients suffering from chronic and acute conditions take advantage of acupuncture as a complementary course of treatment, they are able to experience improvement in imbalances that impact multiple symptoms of their bodies. Vitality is improved as channels of energy are restored.

Sharon Sherman has been licensed to practice acupuncture and East Asian Medicine since 2001 and holds the highest credential available from both the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine and the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. She has deep knowledge and understanding of treating stress and anxiety as well as degenerative and autoimmune diseases.  She uses acupuncture modalities and Chinese herbs to provide relief and numerous benefits for the unique range of symptoms experienced by her patients.

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Philadelphia, PA, 19118

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