Factsheet: Acupuncture for Anxiety

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Background information about acupuncture
Traditional Acupuncture is a safe and effective system of medicine that originated in China thousands of years ago and still forms an important part of mainstream healthcare there today.

In Traditional Acupuncture we view the human body in a holistic way. We focus on the health of the person as a whole and emphasise the connection between physical and emotional health. Every person is unique and one individual may become ill for different reasons to another so in Traditional Acupuncture we design each treatment according to the individual’s needs.

In Traditional Acupuncture, good health involves a smooth flow of energy (Qi) through channels in the body. Illness, injury or emotional stress occur when Qi is out of balance or unable to flow freely. Acupuncture maintains the body’s equilibrium and flow of Qi, by inserting fine needles into specific points on the body. This concept may seem a bit wacky, but Qi can actually just be seen as a metaphor for metabolic functions or chemical changes constantly taking place in the body.  Someone receiving acupuncture will often report an increased sense of well-being as well as improvement in the symptoms which brought them to treatment.

Anxiety and acupuncture
We all feel anxious sometimes, anxiety is a natural emotion. However, when it becomes persistent, irrational and excessive it can affect your quality of life.  Anxiety disorders include generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder. They can all cause considerable distress and disability.

As well as emotional symptoms such as nervousness, worry, disturbed sleep, irritability and poor concentration, anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as sweating, nausea, diarrhoea, palpitations, breathlessness, dizziness, muscle tension, trembling and twitching. Also, physical conditions can become worse with anxiety, for example, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines and tension headaches, and back pain.

In traditional acupuncture there is no single treatment for anxiety as each person has a different experience.  We treat you as an individual, identifying the imbalances which cause your anxiety, not just treating the symptoms themselves. Acupuncture treatment is enhanced when used alongside other self-help tools such as breathing techniques, exercise or mindfulness. We can develop a personalised ‘toolbox’ of techniques to help you manage your anxiety and enable you to retake control

How does acupuncture help? (the science bit)
In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules, promoting physical and emotional well-being. Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may benefit anxiety disorders and symptoms by:

  • Acting on areas of the brain known to promote relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry.
  • Regulating levels of neurotransmitters and hormones to help to combat negative affective states.
  • Activating the parasympathetic nervous system, initiating the relaxation response.
  • Reversing pathological changes in levels of inflammatory cytokines that are associated with anxiety.
  • Reversing stress-induced changes in behaviour and biochemistry.

Acupuncture is a safe drug-free treatment. It can be safely and effectively combined with conventional treatments such as medication or talking therapies and CBT.

What to expect in a multibed clinic
We treat several people together in one room. It is possible for us to work in this way because acupuncture needles usually take 20-40 minutes to do their work. We are able to place needles in one patient, leave them to relax into their treatment, and then move on to another patient.

At the People’s Acupuncture Project up to 6 people are treated at the same room bringing a community spirit to the experience. You may feel nervous about coming into this environment but we are a very warm and welcoming clinic. Patients in multibed clinics consistently report that they like the sense of togetherness and humanity they find.  Research shows that patients treated in multibed clinics report many positive experiences and very few negative.

Some people may be concerned about privacy but it isn’t usually necessary to remove clothes as the most-frequently used points are on the arms and legs. Wearing loose clothing means we can get to the points we need. We also have gowns and blankets available if necessary. We will do everything we can to ensure you feel comfortable.

Need more information?
Give us a call or drop us an email for a discussion about how acupuncture can help you, how we work, or other query you might have about treatment.

click here for a printable pdf version of this factsheet

(please contact us if you would like a fully referenced copy of this factsheet)

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Anxiety and Acupuncture

Are you Anxiety Aware. Mental Health Awareness Week 2014. 12-18 May.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week (12-18 May 2014) with the theme of Anxiety, so we’d like to talk about anxiety and how acupuncture can help.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, and uneasiness. Normal anxiety, stimulated by the sympathetic nervous system, has its root in fear and serves an important survival function. In fact feeling anxious in response to unpleasant upcoming events such as a job interview or a medical test is perfectly normal. However, when that anxiety becomes persistent, irrational and excessive, it can begin to take over your life and is an indication that there is an imbalance in the sympathetic nervous system.

Chronic anxiety can involve uncontrollable and irrational worry about everyday things. It can be as severe as a panic attack, or it may be more of a generalized and unfocused feeling of unease. People often experience physical symptoms, such as breathlessness or a racing heart, which are usually a result of adrenaline (our fight or flight response hormone) acting on the body. The experience of anxiety is unique to each individual and people can experience very different symptoms.

How acupuncture can help

Conventional treatments for anxiety generally consist of drug therapies which, although helpful may have debilitating side effects or dependence. Acupuncture is a medication-free way to relieve anxiety with both immediate and long-lasting results.

Anxiety is one of the most common conditions that people come to me with, and we find acupuncture is a really effective treatment.  It can make a real difference to people’s lives, enabling them to feel calmer, happier and back in control. In fact it was Eleanor’s own experience of anxiety that first led her to try acupuncture many years ago, and the profound affect it had sparked her love of Chinese medicine.

In traditional acupuncture every patient is considered to be unique, and this means that there is no single treatment for each sufferer as each person has differing symptoms.  We aim to treat you as an individual, identifying the imbalances which cause your anxiety, not just treating the symptoms themselves. In traditional acupuncture, we see that mind and body are intrinsically linked, and therefore we treat you as a whole, mind and body.

Acupuncture treatment is enhanced when used alongside other self-help tools such as breathing techniques, exercise or mindfulness. We can develop a personalised ‘toolbox’ of techniques to help you manage your anxiety and enable you to retake control

How does it help?

Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically benefit anxiety disorders and symptoms of anxiety by:

  • Acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry (Hui 2010).
  • Regulating levels of neurotransmitters (or their modulators) and hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA, neuropeptide Y and ACTH; hence altering the brain’s mood chemistry to help to combat negative affective states (Lee 2009; Samuels 2008; Zhou 2008; Yuan 2007).
  • Stimulating production of endogenous opioids that affect the autonomic nervous system (Arranz 2007). Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, while acupuncture can activate the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the relaxation response.
  • Reversing pathological changes in levels of inflammatory cytokines that are associated with anxiety (Arranz 2007)
  • Reversing stress-induced changes in behaviour and biochemistry (Kim 2009).

For details of further research and evidence of acupuncture effectiveness see the British Acupuncture Councils factsheet on anxiety here

If you suffer with anxiety and would like to have a chat about how acupuncture could help you, please give me a call on 07834 160906, or drop me an email

The Peoples Acupuncture Project, Exeter

 

References:

Arranz L et al. Effect of acupuncture treatment on the immune function impairment found in anxious women. American Journal of Chinese Medicine.  2007;35(1):35-51

Hui KK et al. Acupuncture, the limbic system, and the anticorrelated networks of the brain. Auton Neurosci. 2010 Oct 28;157(1-2):81-90.

Kim H  et al. The effects of acupuncture stimulation at PC6 (Neiguan) on chronic mild stress-induced biochemical and behavioral responses. Neuroscience Letters. 2009; 460 (1) (pp 56-60)

Lee B et al. Effects of acupuncture on chronic corticosterone-induced depression-like behavior and expression of neuropeptide Y in the rats. Neuroscience Letters 2009; 453: 151-6.

Samuels N et al. Acupuncture for psychiatric illness: a literature review.Behav Med 2008; 34: 55-64

Yuan Q. Li J.-N. Liu B. Wu Z.-F. Jin R. Effect of Jin-3-needling therapy on plasma corticosteroid, adrenocorticotropic hormone and platelet 5-HT levels in patients with generalized anxiety disorder. Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine.2007; 13 (4):  264-268.

Zhou Q et al. The effect of electro-acupuncture on the imbalance between monoamine neurotransmitters and GABA in the CNS of rats with chronic emotional stress-induced anxiety. Int J Clin Acupunct 2008 ;17: 79-84.

Acupuncture and Insomnia

acupuncture for insomnia - The Peoples Acupuncture Project, Exeter
Sleep is important, and yet so many of us struggle to get enough. It is thought that as many of 1 in 3 of us experience insomnia, a condition of unsatisfactory sleep, whether that be due to difficulty falling asleep, waking early or through the night, or shallow restless sleep. We need sleep for its restorative powers, both physically and mentally.  The body carries out many healing and maintenance processes while we sleep.  Not only can sleepless nights leave us fatigued and cognitively impaired throughout the day, but long term lack of sleep can be associated with mood disturbances, a reduced quality of life and can predispose us to illness. Sleeplessness is one of the most debilitating and demoralizing symptoms we can experience.

Acupuncture treatment

All is not lost. Acupuncture is a fantastic treatment for insomnia. Trouble sleeping is one of the most common problems that clients come to us with. Even in people who do not recognize or mention sleep as a problem, acupuncture has a tendency to produce more restful nights. This often goes unnoticed until asked about on a follow-up visit. We often hear people say: “You know, now that you mention it, I have been sleeping a lot better since I started coming for acupuncture.”

Acupuncture has an extremely calming effect on the nervous system, and over time, it can help to correct the imbalances causing insomnia without creating side effects. In fact, besides improved sleep, people often report a greater sense of well-being and an overall improvement in health.

From a Chinese medicine perspective there are a number of well established patterns which explain why the mind refuses to close down at night even though the person is physically exhausted. Insomnia doesn’t have a single specified treatment, and each person who cannot sleep does so in a way that is unique to them. Diagnosis will focus on the individual, understanding their particular experience and treating accordingly.

Often, patients come to an acupuncturist reporting insomnia because of other emotional issues they are facing. These emotions can often surface as insomnia, anxiety, or mild depression. As the stresses of modern life take their toll, our minds can no longer relax and our sleep becomes disturbed. In these cases treatment will be focussed on addressing and releasing these emotions.

See here a BBC news interview with an acupuncturist and GP explaining the benefits of acupuncture for insomnia: http://youtu.be/XqlgDQgLUgI

The evidence

In a study conducted at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, researchers found acupuncture to be an effective treatment for anxiety and insomnia.

The researchers wrote that five weeks of acupuncture treatment was associated with a significant nocturnal increase in endogenous melatonin secretion and significant improvements in polysomnographic measures of sleep onset latency, arousal index, total sleep time, and sleep efficiency. Significant reductions in anxiety scores were also found. “These objective findings are consistent with clinical reports of acupuncture’s relaxant effects,” they concluded.

Other studies have confirmed that acupuncture treatment normalizes melatonin production for insomniacs.

Studies have found that acupuncture increases certain central nervous system hormones, which may explain why there is such a positive association between insomnia and acupuncture therapy in research studies.

The British Acupuncture Council has a fact sheet on insomnia with further research, click here to view.

What you can do

Alongside having acupuncture treatment there are a number of changes you can make to improve your sleep. here’s 5 top tips:

  1. Exercise: ideally every day. This positive stress will tire out your body in a good way. However make sure you exercise long before going to bed (preferably at least 3 hours) so that your nervous system has time to settle down
  2. Don’t work before bed: Excessive thinking at night can over-stimulate your mind causing insomnia. Phones and computer screens also emit ‘blue light’ which suppress sleep hormones. Stop work at least 2 hours before bed to allow your mind to relax
  3. Food & drink: Don’t drink caffeinated or alcoholic beverages near your bedtime, try and avoid caffeine after lunch,  and avoid large meals for a couple of hours before bed
  4. Quiet the Mind: Wind down by reading or bathing before bedtime. Try breathing exercises, meditation, and other forms of relaxation to help your insomnia.
  5. Keep on schedule: go to bed at the same time every night. Our natural body clock means that sleep hormones will be released at the right time as long as we keep to a routine

To find out more about how acupuncture could help you have a better nights sleep, get in touch for a chat or drop us an email

The People’s Acupuncture Project, Exeter