Acupuncture for Anxiety
Whilst it is perfectly natural to feel anxiety from time to time—before an exam or job interview, for instance – many people nowadays find that anxiety is an almost ever present part of their experience. This is sometimes so much the case that they have forgotten what it is like not to be anxious.
Anxiety can manifest in specific problems such as panic attacks or phobias, or it can simply remain as a background of fear and worry. A wide range of physical symptoms such as headache, palpitations, lethargy and digestive problems can accompany these feelings, so that anxiety has a debilitating effect both on the quality of our life and our health in general.
Anxiety and TCM
Anxiety of all kinds is such a common problem in our society because of the way we are taught to approach life; whilst many of us are relatively affluent, there is little nourishment for our spirit in the materialism of modern consumer society. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine is rooted in a philosophy that provides what many people find to be a life giving alternative to this dry materialism, and acupuncture treatment, from ancient times, has been known to be able to treat disorders of the spirit such as anxiety.
Acupuncture treatment for anxiety often involves using points with names such as ‘Calm the Spirit’, which are known to have a deeply calming effect. Most patients, whether coming for treatment for anxiety or for any other condition, will acknowledge that acupuncture treatment itself is a very calming and nourishing experience.
More than this, however, TCM can address the disharmonies within our body and mind which underlie the anxiety, helping us to restore health on all levels of our being.
For example, a common factor in anxiety is often what TCM calls Blood Deficiency. (This is not the same thing as anaemia.) A Blood deficient person may look pale, they may not sleep well, and they may tire easily; they are also likely to get anxious. Blood deficiency may in turn arise from (amongst other things) an impaired digestive system, which is inefficient in transforming the food we eat into richly nourishing Blood. In such a case as this TCM uses acupuncture to regulate and harmonise the digestive system, and perhaps herbal therapy to nourish the Blood; we might also suggest some dietary modifications. Thus, in this example, treatment would aim to calm the spirit directly as well as treating the underlying imbalances which are at the root of the anxiety.
We might also suggest some gentle Chi Kung exercise or meditation if appropriate, and perhaps also discuss with you ways in which you can respond to your individual life circumstances which will promote calm and inner peace. This example perhaps illustrates how TCM treatment of anxiety is holistic and comprehensive; it is not a matter of suppressing your anxious feelings, but of calming the spirit and restoring harmony to you as a whole person.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Anxiety?
A systematic review of the evidence for acupuncture treatment of anxiety conducted at the University of Westminster found positive evidence that acupuncture helps generalised anxiety disorder 1.
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I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and was experiencing symptoms like irritability, restlessness, insomnia, poor energy, erratic and irregular heartbeat. For a long period of time I also suffered with anxiety and panic attacks. It was not long before I found myself taking 8 tablets per day (inclusive of the contraceptive pill). I decided it was time to take some action – I was on a ‘self help’ mission. Fortunately for me, I got in touch with the The Sean Barkes Clinic [Clinic of Traditional Chinese Medicine]. It was immediately apparent that I had found that much needed help. Not only have I been treated in the form of acupuncture, I have experienced Chinese Massage and Chinese Herbal Medicine. It is without doubt that due to this treatment I feel the best I have felt in years, my thyroid is functioning normally, I am tablet free, and have gained massive amounts of knowledge about my body.
The first time I met Vimala I told him the only thing I looked forward to was sleep. Sadly, at 46 years old, this was quite true. I have suffered from anxiety all my life (have a constant dull headache) and as I got older had symptoms of depression as well. Once I hit my forties I started experiencing feelings of extreme panic (dry mouth, racing heart, pounding head, tremors, feelings of dread, weepiness, and insomnia). Sometimes, my heart would feel like it was thundering so loudly I was convinced the people in close proximity could hear it. My appetite was non-existent therefore I was underweight and my symptoms certainly dictated my life. I was forever avoiding the situations that I was able to, particularly social, and lived in dread of those I had to face (such as work). As I work for the NHS and have a certain knowledge of medicine I managed for as long as able without prescribed medication for fear of replacing one problem with another i.e. side effects of the type of drug I knew I was likely to be prescribed if I presented with the symptoms I have described. However, in my early forties I felt if I didn’t do something I would get to the stage where I was unable to get out of bed and face the day and realised that would most certainly lead to a downward spiral of time off work and probably exacerbate the problem. I was duly prescribed antidepressants and sleeping pills, plus pain relief tablets for the constant headache. I stopped the antidepressants after about six months as they didn’t seem to help as much as I had hoped and I couldn’t cope with the side effects (flushing, night sweats and a rather numb or spaced feeling) but habitually took the pain relief and the sleeping tablets. I looked forward to sleep because it was the only relief from my symptoms.
Three months later, and after a course of ten acupuncture sessions (I now have an acupuncture session every 3-4 weeks) I am a somewhat different (certainly calmer) person. My energy levels have risen considerably and continue to do so, my body feels very much lighter (although I have actually put on weight as my appetite is improved), my head and mind are clearer and my attitude is more positive and optimistic. I haven’t had a panic attack since my third or fourth session of acupuncture and rarely take pain relief tablets. My next challenge is to stop the sleeping tablets. I still have my old friend the headache, but it is ever decreasing in intensity and constancy. While I would not claim to be completely symptom free (I still suffer some occasional anxiety but nothing like the sheer panic and dread I used to experience), I would claim to be able to cope with it and understand it better and be able to alleviate it more successfully than I have ever been able to before.
I embraced acupuncture as I really wanted it to work and it has, and I’ve also made other lifestyle changes (diet, exercise and try to explore what makes me the way I am) to ensure I was working with it and giving it my optimum. I wish I had done it years ago. I enjoy the sessions immensely – I would rather have acupuncture than a massage.
When I first told Vimala all I looked forward to was sleep, he said ‘we’ll see if we can do something about that’ – and he has.
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Tinnitus, Loss of Hearing Insomnia, Anxiety, Depression, Panic/Claustrophobia.
3 Years ago I suddenly developed very severe Tinnitus and some loss of hearing. It happened in the night and was very frightening. Consequently it triggered several panic attacks and insomnia (which I had never suffered from before). Doctors and specialist both private and NHS gave me numerous tests. They informed me that there was nothing they could do and that I would probably have tinnitus for life. They warned me that my hearing could deteriorate further. They said that they didn’t know what had caused it but suspected it was either a virus (I had a persistent dry cough at the time of the attack) or a side effect of the antibiotics my doctor had given me at that time. I became very depressed as the quality of my life was severely affected. The loud relentless ringing in my ear dominated everything. I became anxious – worried that the tinnitus would get even worse and that I might lose my hearing altogether as the doctors said this was a possibility. I seemed to be in a downward spiral and it was severely affecting both my working and personal life.
The doctors had given up on me but I hadn’t given up on myself so I decided to try acupuncture as I had read that it could help tinnitus and I had found it had helped me many years ago when I suffered with dizziness. I found Sean in Yellow Pages and went to see him. I was extremely impressed. He deliberated my medical history thoroughly and after performing various tests and checking my “chi” (all painless) seemed confident he could help me – not only with the tinnitus, but the insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks and depression as well. Sean’s philosophy on life is inspiring and his cheerful, positive approach is a tonic. Even after my first visit I felt a lot better.
I found the acupuncture painless and relaxing. Sean also gave me Chinese herbal tablets. After the third treatment I began sleeping normally again much to my amazement as I had been suffering severe insomnia for almost 3 months. I continued with regular treatments and gradually the tinnitus which had been driving me mad, began to lessen. The depression lifted along with the anxiety and panic. I began to feel like my “old” self again. The tinnitus has been reduced by about 75% and it is now only a faint “hum” in the background and the excruciating high pitched ringing has gone. It no longer dominates my life – I fact most of the time I don’t even notice it.. Sean gave me my life back! I will always be grateful to him.
1 Pilkington K. et al (2007) Acupuncture for anxiety and anxiety disorders – a systematic literature review. Acupunct Med. 2007 Jun;25(1-2):1-10