Acupuncture treatments for stress and anxiety are a popular therapy at Joanne Vidich Chinese Medicine’s Williamstown clinic. In the management of clients with chronic conditions, we find that rapid improvement in treatment outcomes are achieved after acupuncture or Chinese herbs for stress and anxiety are incorporated in the treatment protocols. From our experience, stress and anxiety is often a co-existing condition in chronic pain and inflammation, infertility, migraine headache, chronic respiratory condition such as asthma, and functional digestive diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and dyspepsia (upset stomach).
We also use the stress and anxiety treatment protocol on clients who complain about unexplained recurrent symptoms that affect their daily functioning. These symptoms include nausea, dizziness, insomnia, palpitation, muscle aches, frequent urination and fatigue. By the time they present themselves at our clinic, these clients would have had various tests done ruling out possible organic diseases causing the symptoms. Conventional medications provide temporary relief or no relief at all. For these clients, the first line of treatment is acupuncture or Chinese herbal formula for stress and anxiety, which produces global improvement to their level of discomfort. We are then able to effectively target their presenting symptoms using acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.
Chinese medicine treatment for stress and anxiety
Chinese medicine uses a holistic approach in the treatment of stress and anxiety. Stress comes from events which upset or threaten our normal balance in life. Anxiety is a reaction to stress. Daily stress-causing factors (stressors) include excessive physical and mental demands or important life events that make us anxious. For example, we see clients who are overwhelmed by unresolved stressors, such as work deadlines, relationship issues, fertility problems, financial difficulties, or even traffic jams and a fear of height.
Modern day stressors are seldom life-threatening, but are persistent in nature, exerting constant pressure and demand to the body and mind. Chronic stress causes a person to bounce back and forth between the initial ‘fight-or-flight’ response and having to activate the ‘survival’ mechanism, where we attempt to resist and adapt to the stressors. When the body becomes depleted and can no longer maintain the high energy requirement of responding to stress, the exhaustion phase occurs.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, a threat to the normal balance in life impedes the smooth flow of Qi in the meridians. Each meridian is connected to an internal organ, and each internal organ has its unique physiological and spiritual aspects. Chronic activation of the survival mechanism causes these clients to develop various types of stress-induced physical and psycho-emotional health problems.
According to Chinese medicine organ theory, the adrenal glands are anatomically governed by the Kidney and functionally controlled by the Liver. Prolonged exposure to stress requires the adrenals to work on overdrive pumping out stress hormones. During the exhaustion phase of stress response, the energies of the Kidney and Liver organs are depleted. At this stage the clients are burned-out, and may be suffering from adrenal fatigue or depression.
FAQ: How do I know if I need stress relief acupuncture?
Stress-relief acupuncture prevent the onset of anxiety, and increases the effectiveness of the Chinese medicine treatments which our clients are currently receiving for their chronic health problems. Almost every one of our client complain about being stressed, especially those who are undergoing Chinese medicine treatments for chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), infertility, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), peri-menopausal syndrome, insomnia, headache and migraine. When stress-related symptoms begin to appear, it is essential to incorporate a few acupuncture sessions for stress relief in their existing treatment plan.
Stress is an inevitable part of daily life. The symptoms of stress are caused by chain reactions to the circulating stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. In addition to exacerbating underlying health issues, chronic stress can lead to heart disease, immune system suppression, respiratory problems and obesity. Research suggests that persistent surges of adrenaline increase blood pressure, promote formation of artery-clogging deposits, and substantially raising the risks of heart attack and stroke. Elevated level of cortisol in the bloodstream increases appetite, prompting people to eat more in order to replenish the depleted energy store, at the same time contribute to build-up of fat tissue and weight gain. The psycho-emotional impact of chronic stress includes self-medicating as an attempt to increase coping capacity, leading to drugs and alcohol addiction, and food craving.
We ask our clients to watch out for the signs and symptoms indicating they are under increased level of stress. These symptoms include:
- Skin breakouts
- Flushing and sweating (not during excessive physical activities)
- Unexplained sleepiness
- Feeling tired (when the body shouldn’t be that tired)
- Looking worn-out and having lines on the face
- Hair loss
- Craving for sugar or snacks
- Dizzy spells
- Trembling hands
- Stiff shoulder and back
- Jaw pain (a result of jaw clenching and teeth grinding)
- Keep catching colds
Signs and symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety produces physical and cognitive symptoms:
- Impaired concentration
- A feeling that the mind is going blank
- Difficulty sleeping (trouble falling asleep or stay sleeping)
- Muscle pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
Apart from being under stress, some medical conditions can cause anxiety symptoms, such as an overactive thyroid, abnormal heart rhythm and the prolapse of the mitral valve of the heart. Drug and alcohol abuse also produce anxiety symptoms.
Chinese medicine treatment approach for stress and anxiety
At Joanne Vidich Chinese Medicine, our acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas are customised to relieve the presenting symptoms of individual clients. To achieve better symptom control and maintain treatment results, we incorporate esoteric concepts in the acupuncture protocols to condition the psyche of clients. From our experience and long-term observation, stress relief acupuncture protocols are most effective if both the physiological and psychological states of the patients are balanced in the process. Our two-pronged treatment approach improves the physical, mental and emotional health of clients. Consequently, the clients will become more resilient to the damaging effect of a demanding and highly pressurised work and social lives.
Immediate relief of stress and anxiety symptoms
The immediate treatment goal of Chinese medicine for stress and anxiety treatment protocol is to relieve the symptoms associated with the activation of stress response. The top priority is on relieving the anxiety symptom. Being anxious in additional to feeling physically unwell further stresses the clients, causing a self-perpetuating vicious cycle. Secondly, we use acupuncture to stimulate the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, effectively dampening the stress response and promoting a calm and relaxed mental state.
Prevent development of stress and anxiety
The long term goal of stress relief acupuncture is to condition our clients to become less reactive to stress causing factors. We use esoteric acupuncture patterns to raise the consciousness level of our clients, and enabling our clients to drop the emotional baggage which they are not consciously aware of.
Stress response is set off by how a person perceive a situation or an interaction with others. An event that is perceived as being stressful for one person, may be considered fine by another person. Our core belief and thought process influence and determine how often, or how easily our brain trigger the ‘fight-or-flight’ response to perceived threats. Esoteric acupuncture combines Chinese medicine concepts, with sacred geometry and energetic chakra systems. This acupuncture is efficient in resolving the core imbalance in our clients, reducing their propensity to developing stress and anxiety.
FAQ: How can acupuncture help with stress and anxiety?
Acupuncture has been used extensively and found effective in the treatment of stress, anxiety and panic attacks.
Reduce the reactivity to stressors
Numerous scientific reports including fMRI studies found evidence supporting the effect of acupuncture in the modulation of the limbic system in the brain. Often referred to as the ‘emotional brain’, the limbic-paralimbic-neocortical network plays a central role in the regulation and integration of emotion, memory processing, mood and sensations of pain and pleasure. Through processing sensory input, the limbic system regulates our physiological response to perceived threats. The limbic system is also responsible for the secretion of calming brain chemicals, including endorphin and serotonin, which mediates analgesic (pain relief) and sedation effect.
Increase the capacity to cope with stress
Most of our clients who present at the clinic for acupuncture for stress and anxiety relief, or for treatment of stress-induced health problems, are being affected by chronic stress. They have become overreactive to stressors, have a changed perception to situations and interactions with others, therefore unable to switch off the stress response. Stuck in a ‘survival’ mode, they continuously try to cope with and fight off the stressors.
Stress relief acupuncture strengthens the capacity to cope with stress. Research showed that insertion of needles at selected acupuncture points increase the synthesis and release of hormones and neurotransmitters from the central nervous system, including endomorphin, beta-endorphin, enkephalin, serotonin and oxytocin. This effects to modulate various neurophysiologic mechanisms during the resistance period of stress, and provided much needed support for a person’s psychological state.
Stop chronic stress response and prevent stress-induced health diseases
Acupuncture relieves stress and treats anxiety by stimulating the pituitary gland to release oxytocin, a hormone which activates the parasympathetic nervous system. The activation of the parasympathetic nervous systems takes the clients out of the ‘survival mode’ triggered by a stress response. The effect of our stress relief acupuncture protocols immediately dampens the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, then promotes the physiological process where the clients recover while being in the ‘rest and digest’ mode. Consequently, their heart rate slows down, blood pressure returns to the normal level, muscle fibres lengthen and relax, with more blood flow being redirected to the digestion, reproductive and urinary systems.
Treatment outcomes of acupuncture for stress and anxiety
Acupuncture for stress relief produce instantaneous effect on most clients. While the clients are resting on the treatment table during an acupuncture session, we observed that their jaws are unclenched and the facial expression are relaxed. The frown lines and the groove between the lips and cheeks become less noticeable. Their shoulders drop indicating reduced muscle tension. Eventually their breathing become deeper, signalling that the ribcage and diaphragm are relaxed as well.
A quick chat with the clients after the session will find that they are leaving the clinic in a calm and relaxed state of mind. Stress relief acupuncture protocols activate the parasympathetic nervous system, causing the senses to be less sharpen. Consequently, the clients will be in a mental state where they are less reactive to potential stressors.
FAQ: How long does it take for acupuncture to work for stress and anxiety?
We recommend a 3-month acupuncture treatment course for stress anxiety. The healing action of acupuncture is achieved through cumulative effect of continuous and regular treatment sessions. We find that in the treatment of stress and anxiety, the emotional and mental states of the clients determine their responsiveness to the therapies. Generally, noticeable improvements are achieved within 3 to 4 treatment sessions. Some clients may need 6 to 8 sessions to start noticing changes.
During the initial stage, the clients are encouraged to attend the clinic for acupuncture treatments either once or twice per week, until a course of treatment is completed. The taking of Chinese herbal formulas helps to expedite results, and sustain the treatment effect of acupuncture sessions. Repeat treatment courses may be needed for protracted cases. Once the stress and anxiety symptoms are under control, esoteric acupuncture sessions once every 4 to 6 weeks are important maintenance therapies, especially for clients who has a highly stressful and pressurised lifestyle.
Hui, K.S., et al. (2005) “The integrated response of the human cerebro-cerebellar and limbic systems to acupuncture stimulation at ST 36 as evidenced by fMRI”. Neurolmage, vol. 27(3), pp. 479-496.