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How Acupuncture Can Help You Find Balance When You’re Anxious

Anxiety can be a very hard condition to treat. I believe it is a symptom of a greater imbalance in the body, not a primary condition. So many things can cause imbalances: environmental toxins, stress, trauma, emotional stressors, food intolerance, nutritional deficiencies.

The many contributing causes can make it difficult to successfully treat everyone with anxiety in the same way. If there’s no one cause, there is also no one cure. That’s why things like supplements can be variable in their effects––they may not be targeting the specific processes in your body that are needed. However, acupuncture is something that can help anyone with anxiety because it is tailored to your unique body’s needs.

Acupuncture works by needles inserted at certain points to affect the energy along body lines called meridians. Overall, it is usually a very relaxing experience no matter what points are used, though there are certain points just for relaxation and anti-anxiety.

Acupuncture releases endorphins in your body. Endorphins are hormones that affect the brain and nervous system, causing the general feeling of relaxation and well-being that is frequently reported after an acupuncture treatment. This helps your body to relax into “rest and digest” and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Most of us spend our days with our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight mode) in overdrive.

Without appropriate rest and relaxation, an over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system makes us prone to an anxiety state. Acupuncture, done over the course of time, can help retrain your body and nervous system to live in a more relaxed state.

Aside from the generalized relaxation experience of acupuncture, treatments are also tailored to the individual. An experienced acupuncturist is able to recognize patterns in patient presentation, through a thorough history as well as a tongue and pulse exam, that helps them identify the energetic imbalance. Through this, they are able to develop a treatment to help fix the dysfunction.

Acupuncture sees the body as a whole, integrated system. That anxiety is not a single symptom in isolation. You may not realize that other symptoms you are having are related to your anxiety, but it is highly likely that they are all connected. 

Acupuncture works over the short term to help relax you immediately, but it also works cumulatively to help prevent anxiety and fix imbalances over the long term. There are multiple scientific studies to support the use of acupuncture in anxiety as equivalent to or better than the use of standard treatment. This research needs more funding, as does most of the more natural and non-pharmaceutical interventions.

However, it also makes a great adjunctive treatment to more standard anxiety treatment. I believe the integration of Western and holistic practices is the future of medicine and can be combined together for a synergistic effect. Acupuncture can be the support you need while taking medications if that is something you choose.

And what if the thought of having needles stuck in your body makes you anxious just thinking about it? Be reassured that this is not a dangerous or painful experience. With a licensed, experienced acupuncturist, there are little to no dangerous side effects. It is considered very safe, so there is generally only room for improvement.

And for the needle-phobic people, there is generally very little pain involved. The needles are much smaller than those used for blood draws or IVs, so it is a totally different experience. It is not uncommon to not feel certain points at all or to just feel a momentary pinch.

One of the other advantages of seeing an acupuncturist is the increased amount of time they are able to spend with you. These days where insurance is mandating an increasingly shorter time with a physician, most follow-ups with an acupuncturist take an hour-time for a discussion and then a treatment.

Acupuncture is probably my favorite alternative modality to recommend. I don’t think it was ever mentioned during my four years of medical school, but I discovered it at the end of my four-year emergency medicine residency when I was struggling with fatigue, skin rashes, and digestive problems. After several years of regular visits and seeing fantastic results, I decided to learn for myself. I enrolled in a 9 month, 300-hour physician acupuncture program.

While I don’t have the breadth of acupuncture knowledge of someone who has gone to four years of acupuncture school, I have a great foundation of knowledge to work with. So far I have treated myself and others for a broken rib, cough & cold, GI distress, various musculoskeletal complaints, and menstrual cramps just to name a few. I have found that it can really work on anything, and encourage anyone who is curious to find out for themselves how it can help.

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