Acupuncture for Anxiety and Stress

Scientific research supports the use of Chinese medicine and acupuncture for anxiety and stress relief. 

Everyone experiences anxiety and stress at some point in life.  If these emotions come and go like a mild wind they do not cause disease. 

However, chronic and strong anxiety and stress result in prolonged exposure to powerful some of the most powerful neuroendocrine chemicals your body produces, like adrenaline and cortisol.  These can keep you awake at night, upset your digestion or elimination, and cause aches and pains in various parts of your body, particularly your neck and shoulders.

Prolonged exposure to these chemicals may promote physical diseases such as inflammatory disorders (e.g. dermatitis, eczema), circulatory disorders (hypertension, heart disease), endocrine imbalances (e.g. hypothyroid, diabetes type 2), and immune system disorders.

Stress, Emotions, and Dis-ease

Chinese medicine has long recognized that strong or prolonged emotions produce physical symptoms and disease.  Anxiety generally results from strong emotions affecting the heart and spirit.  Symptoms of anxiety include

*  Heart palpitations or racing heartbeat
*  Poor memory
*  Insomnia
*  Difficulty staying present
*  Tendency to weep
*  Discomforting sensations leading to frequent stretching
*  Difficulty taking inhalation leading to frequent yawning
*  Loss of appetite and indigestion

So you see, stress can cause imbalances in the functions (qi) of the heart, lungs, nervous system, and digestive system.  Consequently, basic Chinese medicine or acupuncture for anxiety can improve health of the whole person.

Acupuncture for Anxiety and Stress

Acupuncture frequently provides immediate as well as long-term relief for anxiety.  Some acupuncture points have dramatic anti-anxiety effect. 

For example, one study of acupuncture for anxiety showed that acupressure at the point Yintang (Extra 1), located between the eyebrows, quickly reduced anxiety in children about to undergo endoscopic surgery.

Another study showed that acupuncture treatment provided relief from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  This study compared acupuncture to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and found that acupuncture provided a level of relief similar to CBT.

In my practice I find that acupuncture for anxiety and stress provides reliable relief.  After 1 to 3 treatments, patients commonly report feeling calmer and clearer. 

Chinese Herbal Medicine for Anxiety and Stress

Chinese herbal medicine can effectively treat stress, even in animals, demonstrating that the effects do not depend on  belief in herbal medicines. 

Herbalists trained in Chinese medicine have for centuries treated anxiety and depression with the herbal formula Xiao Yao San, also known as Free and Easy Wanderer Formula (FEWF).  Wang et al tested the efficacy of FEWF in treatment of stress-associated behavior in rats.  They found that an enhanced version of FEWF "possesses anxiolytic and cognition-improving effects and may be an effective herbal preparation for the treatment of stress-associated conditions, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)." See Free and Easy Wanderer Plus (FEWP), a polyherbal preparation, ameliorates PTSD-like behavior and cognitive impairments in stressed rats.

Another study looked at the effect of Chinese herbal medicine on anxiety, stress, depression, and anger as part of premenstrual syndrome in women.  The research showed that women who took herbal medicines for three months had significant reductions in their emotional distress compared to women who only took a placebo. See A controlled trial of Chinese herbal medicine for premenstrual syndrome.

Qi Gong / Meditation for Stress Relief

Mindfulness meditation provides one of the best remedies for stress.  Zeidan et al assigned people to one of two groups, the first received four sessions of either meditation training and the second spent equal time listening to a recorded book. They found that both interventions improved mood but only brief meditation training reduced fatigue, anxiety, and increased mindfulness, and mindfulness training also enhanced visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning.  Find the abstract here.

You can follow these instructions to practice basic qi gong mindfulness meditation:

1. Sit in a quiet place with your back comfortably straight, your head and neck aligned with the spine. If possible, assume the half- or full-lotus posture on a cushion, because this posture provides the most stability. If you use a chair, have your feet flat on the floor and if possible make your knees slightly lower than your hips.

2. Gently close your eyes, or leave them slightly open and look downward toward the tip of your nose, or at a spot about 2 feet in front of you.

3. Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth just behind the front teeth. This completes the internal energy circuit of the body, enhancing meditation.

4. Gently rock your body side-to-side a few times to find the most stable center.

5. Bring your attention to the breath. Let the breath take its own course, make no attempt to change it. Simply watch the breath move in and out. Sometimes you will breath deeply, sometimes shallowly. Just observe it with full awareness, aware when it is deep and aware when it is shallow.

6. As you breathe, count each exhalation, starting with “1” and proceeding up to “9,” then resume at “1.”

7. During this meditation, thoughts will arise and pass. Whatever thoughts arise, simply observe them without getting involved. Let the mind think whatever it thinks, while you attend to your breath.

8. If your attention wanders and you lose your count, gently bring attention back to the breath, and resume counting at “1.”  As you progress, you will find your concentration improving, your attention will remain steady for longer periods and you will know by the counting.

Start with 5 minutes daily. Gradually increase the length to 10, then 20, then 30 minutes daily, in small increments (5 min.), perhaps once weekly. Do not force longer sitting periods, but increase the length as you feel drawn to do so.

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