How does acupuncture work for stress and anxiety?

Stress is a common complaint which can lead to a variety of associated symptoms including anxiety. People tend to view stress as an accepted part of modern daily life but the fact that it can exacerbate so many other conditions means it really shouldn’t be ignored. These conditions include back pain, depression, headaches and migraines, insomnia, menopausal or premenstrual symptoms (PMS) and irritable bowels syndrome (IBS). Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). All of these disorders lead to a combination of emotional and physical symptoms.

It’s easy for our bodies and minds to become overstimulated by the challenges of daily life which can lead to over stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Acupuncture activates the parasympathetic nervous system which counteracts those feelings and triggers the relaxation response instead. It lifts you out of “fight or flight” mode.

Anxiety and stress boxes image

Mental health issues, including stress and anxiety, are being more widely talked about and recognized by employers. Talking therapies can be very effective treatments, but waiting lists on the NHS can be very long so patients often have to seek treatment privately. Sometimes medication can be helpful but may have unwelcome side effects. You need to choose the right therapy for you and acupuncture may form part of this therapeutic and self-care package.

Acupuncture has been shown to help anxiety by:

  • Acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry.
  • Regulating neurotransmitters and hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine, which affects mood and sleep.
  • Stimulating production of endogenous opioids that affect the autonomic nervous system, initiating the relaxation response.
  • Reversing pathological changes in levels of inflammatory cytokines that are associated with anxiety and stress reactions.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) aims to restore balance within the body by restoring our bodies natural ability to regulate itself (homeostasis). TCM is a holistic treatment so we can target the emotional issues and thoughts at the same time as the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Mental / Emotional issuesPhysical symptoms
Constant worrying or feeling overwhelmedPalpitations
Disturbed sleepNausea / stomach problems
Poor concentrationShortness of breath
Struggling to make decisionsMuscle tension and aches
Different signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety

When I am treating anxiety I approach it using the traditional theory of the Five Elements – Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Individuals have very different emotional responses to different situations. These vary according to which of the Five elements reflects your biggest strengths and vulnerabilities. Treating at this level aims to balance out your response and calm the mind. We can focus treatment on the element that will offer the biggest support.

Acupuncture is very safe, when carried out by a qualified practitioner, and any side effects are mild and short lived. It can be safely used alongside conventional treatments, such as medication or talking therapies, with the aim of enhancing their beneficial effects or reducing unwanted side-effects.

Acupuncture has a cumulative effect, so you will need a course of treatment to bring the frequency and severity of your symptoms under control. We’ll start with weekly treatments then gradually space them out. The aim is to see how long you can go between treatments and still feel well. Eventually you may want to come for maintenance treatments to keep you feeling great.

Most people find acupuncture very relaxing and will even feel sleepy whilst the needles are left in place to work. Often those with anxiety may be more wary of the idea of treatment with needles. You would be surprised how many people tell me they are severely needle phobic, but then find the experience relaxing, calming and they may even forget the needles are there!

Book in for a free 20 minute consultation to find out how acupuncture could help you with your feelings of stress or anxiety. I’d love to meet you and work alongside you towards a calm and balanced New Year.

November 14, 2023