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Acupuncture for Anxiety and Stress; Benefits and Risks

Acupuncture is a non-invasive treatment method for anxiety and depression.

Although various medications have been designed to combat anxiety, alternative management strategies exist that have had positive outcomes in the treatment of anxiety such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy aka CBT (Offered through Clinical Counselling) as well as acupuncture through the use of needles based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) standards.

In Chinese Medicine, it was believed that our body is like a highway (The Meridian) for the flow of energy and certain points (Acupoints) are like the gateways.

Acupoints are important points that stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissues and by stimulating these points, we can help restore the flow of Qi to achieve perfect balance and boost the body’s natural pain inhibiting responses.

Using disposable and sterile needles, acupuncture can help relieve stress and anxiety.

How Acupuncture for Anxiety Works

Acupuncture is based on stimulation of our feel good and calming acupoints. It also works by reducing cortisol levels (stress hormone) and creating an overall sense of calmness in the body through stimulation of our parasympathetic nervous system.

For example, there are acupoints that are targeted for calming the mind, refreshing the brain and opening orifices, soothing liver and spleen.

Stimulation of the appropriate acupoints has a neuro mechanism that affects our biochemical markers involved in neuro signals that are activated when we suffer from anxiety and depression.

What Are the Benefits?

Numerous studies have investigated the power of acupuncture for anxiety and the results have consistently shown the positive effect of the procedure for treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

Reducing Our Body’s Stress Response through Downregulation of Neurotransmitters

Neurotransmitters are chemicals within our brain that allow our brain and nerve cells to communicate with each other.

Different neurotransmitters carry different massages. Anxiety acupuncture helps in regulation of the release of stress inducing neurotransmitters and can help reduce our body’s overall stress response.

Stimulation of the Parasympathetic Nervous System

We have a sympathetic nervous system (fight or fly) and a parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).

The parasympathetic system is the one responsible for keeping our stress levels low and helping us regulate emotions and reach a state of calmness.

Stimulation of this system helps in reducing general anxiety disorder thoughts and feelings and relaxes our whole body.

Regulation of the Release of the Inflammatory Markers Associated with Stress Response

When our body is under stress, our immune system and cells increase their output of inflammatory markers to trigger a stress response. This is so that our body can be fully on guard to respond to a stressful situation.

However, in GAD, the stress response is altered and it is triggered without the presence of thread.

Acupuncture for depression and anxiety can help downregulate the stress signal and help in regulation of the release of inflammatory markers.

Anxiety is a very hurting health issue which can be treated with acupuncture as a non-invasive harmless method.

Are There Any Risks?

Acupuncture, like any medical treatment, carries some risks and contraindications. It’s essential to consider these factors before undergoing acupuncture therapy:

Bleeding Disorders: Individuals with bleeding disorders or who are taking blood-thinning medications may be at increased risk of bleeding or bruising at the acupuncture site. 

Pregnancy: Some acupuncture points are contraindicated during pregnancy, as they may stimulate contractions or affect the fetus. It’s crucial to inform your practitioner if you are pregnant or trying to conceive.

Infection Risk: If proper sterilization techniques are not followed, there is a risk of infection at the acupuncture insertion sites. Ensure that your practitioner uses sterile needles and follows appropriate hygiene protocols.

Organ Damage: Improper needle insertion could potentially damage internal organs. The risk is extremely low when performed by a qualified, experienced practitioner who fully understands anatomy and proper needling techniques.

Needle Breakage: Although rare, needle breaking is possible during acupuncture. This risk is higher with poor-quality needles or improper insertion techniques.

Dizziness or Fainting: Some individuals may experience dizziness or fainting during or after treatment. This reaction is more common in people who are sensitive to needles or have a fear of needles.

Allergic Reactions: While uncommon, some individuals may be allergic to the materials used in acupuncture needles, such as stainless steel or nickel. If you have known allergies to metals, inform your practitioner before the treatment.

Existing Medical Conditions: People with certain medical conditions, such as pacemakers, may need to avoid specific acupuncture points that could interfere with their devices. Additionally, individuals with compromised immune systems or severe chronic illnesses should consult with their primary care physician before undergoing acupuncture treatment. 

Unsterile Practices: If the practitioner does not follow proper sanitization procedures, there is a risk of transmitting infections such as hepatitis or HIV.

Herbal Interactions: Your practitioner may sometimes recommend herbal supplements or topical treatments with acupuncture. You must inform your practitioner about any medications or supplements you are currently taking to avoid potential interactions. – Brooke

In rare cases, since acupuncture punctures the skin, there may be a risk of infection. However, this risk is nominal when you receive your treatment from a credible facility that uses sterile needles and alcohol pads to sanitize. 

Is Acupuncture the Right Treatment for Depression and Anxiety?

In this article, we are discussing whether acupuncture is the best type for treatment of depression and anxiety. Based on research and scientific evidence, it is clear that acupuncture is a viable choice for treatment of this condition.

It is difficult to explain if one treatment is the right treatment for you. Everybody is different and the way their symptoms present varies.

In this article we aim to inform you of the benefits of acupuncture for anxiety and let you know that it can help with symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Below, we will also discuss alternative treatment options and offer our recommendation.

What Other Treatments Are Available for Anxiety?

Of course as described above, there is no one right treatment to treat mental health conditions. Other modalities that have also shown to be effective include use of prescription medication, CBT through clinical counseling and exercise therapy.

If you are suffering from anxiety and depression, it is advisable to contact your medical providers to assess the severity of the condition.

Based on our experience, patients respond well when they try a combination treatment and follow a prescribed treatment plan and stay consistent for the duration of that treatment plan.

For example, based on the severity of your symptoms, seeing a counselor in addition to receiving acupuncture treatment for depression as well as anxiety along with exercise will have superior results than if you were to do just one of the following.

What to Expect in Our Acupuncture Sessions for Anxiety?

During your initial 60 minute visit, your Coquitlam acupuncturist will sit with you, ask you relevant questions to understand your needs and primary concerns.

Based on your goals, they will suggest a treatment plan (for example 1x/week for 6 weeks) followed by a reassessment to ensure you are moving towards your desired goals.

They may also recommend additional therapy such as counseling, use of medication, dietary supplements or refer you to your general physician for consideration of prescribed medication if warranted.

The ideal acupuncture frequency for anxiety varies depending on each person and their anxiety’s severity. Here’s a general guideline:

  • Initial visits: You might start with 1 session per week for 6 weeks.
  • Reassessment: After this initial period, your acupuncturist will assess your progress and adjust the frequency as needed.

This is a common starting point, but remember, your acupuncturist will create a personalized plan for you based on your specific situation.

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