Americans are an anxious bunch. It seems modern day pressures have programmed many of us to live in a state of nervous anticipation, where regardless of circumstances, we are uncomfortable, uneasy or persistently worried. Hearts race, palms sweat, and breathing becomes heavy. Most, if not all, of us can relate to these feelings, but when symptoms like these continue beyond short periods and begin to disrupt our daily life, this can be classified as an anxiety disorder. In the US, every third person suffers from some form of an Anxiety Disorder during their lifetime.
Western medicine offers relief in the form of psychotherapy and medication. Benzodiazepines are the class of drug typically used to treat anxiety and actually act in a similar fashion to the heavy mineral substances that are used in Chinese herbal medicine to calm the spirit. These drugs have their place in treatment, but need to be used cautiously as they can cause side effects and dependence. While Chinese herbal medicine tends to have less side effects and cause less dependence, anything we put into our bodies for treatment needs to be carefully weighed in the delicate balance of our continuously changing health needs.
Other Western approaches include behavioral therapy and counseling and this is an essential tool for so many going through the challenge of an anxiety disorder. The benefits of psychotherapy in combination with appropriately-prescribed medications (pharmaceutical or herbal) can only be enhanced by the regulatory effects of acupuncture on emotions and the stress-response.
What we are looking to address with treatment is an overactivity of emotions, generally regulated by the Pre-Frontal Cortex according to Western medicine, or the Shen (conscious energy of the heart-mind) according to Eastern medicine. Neuro-pathways in the emotional centers of the brain are over-activated in anxiety, and acupuncture has been shown to temporarily block these pathways in order to calm an emotional response. This is in line with the Chinese Medicine theory of the shen’s regulatory effect on the body and its ability to balance emotional energies.
While anxiety can be observed in the brain, there are simultaneous changes in the body we can measure in terms of blood-hormone levels. The stress hormone cortisol courses through our blood at increased levels when we are in a state of anxiety. Acupuncture has long been recognized for its ability to calm a stress response, signaling the body to pull cortisol back out of the blood and return blood-cortisol to normal levels.
In looking at a compilation of research studies on acupuncture for anxiety, not only was it found that acupuncture is an effective tool for anxiety treatment, but that it works fast! Consistently, studies suggest that acupuncture can quickly relieve anxiety within 6 weeks. However, anti-anxiety medicine and other interventions take effect slowly, usually not providing strong benefit until after 6 weeks. This really points to the complementary role acupuncture can play in treatment, as a way to get immediate benefits while other approaches build to their effectiveness.
Patients with anxiety need to be treated with special care. Many will be nervous, especially if it’s their first time getting acupuncture. The thought of getting ‘poked’ with little needles can be anxiety-inducing for many, but surprisingly, even the most needle-shy patients, with the right acupuncturist, often finally find the relief they’ve been looking for.
You don’t have to be suffering from an anxiety disorder to experience the spirit-calming satisfaction of an acupuncture treatment. With the emotional ups and downs of our lives and the stress of our modern world, the acupuncture table can be a safe refuge that allows you to return to balance. Call today to get on that table!
Your initial consultation is free at River Point Family Acupuncture – let’s meet in person so you can learn more about how acupuncture can benefit you! Complete this form or call (715) 716-5909 to schedule with Dr. Barbie today!