Have you ever wonder why it is so easy for all of us to feel out of our element, out of control and far too often out of our minds. We have become a society which invents and invites new sources of stress. We log more hours at work than any other nation, yet are much less productive. When we do relax, many of us do so watching the news or dramas on TV. The newscasters trying to sensationalize even the most mundane of stories to have you fearing for your life or enraged at the world we live in, while the dramas try to top their last gruesome tale with more trauma, violence and criminal genius. Your mind doesn’t get a break. All this stress can leave you with your heart beating out of your chest worrying about things that you can’t control and if looked at rationally, probably won’t ever be an issue for you.
But it happens, to nearly everyone. We get burnt out and can’t calm ourselves. In severe cases people feel like they are having a heart attack and even faint. Not every case is this dramatic, but even mild cases where you worry constantly about family, friends, work, and every little detail takes it’s toll on you.
Every week I see at least half a dozen patients from all walks of life coming in for the treatment of anxiety, and they all say the same thing after acupuncture treatments, “I feel great after the treatment and the calmness stays with me even through stressful situations.” Today I’d like to talk about a few reasons why acupuncture can be so helpful with anxiety.
In previous posts I’ve talked a bit about acupuncture balancing out the mind and body, I’d like to talk about how acupuncture can help with issues of anxiety and depression from both an eastern and western perspective.
From an eastern point of view when we are experiencing any symptom whether psychospiritual or physical, the energy that flows through our acupuncture channels is disrupted. Patients can get symptoms that correspond to one or more of these channels and through questioning, palpation and observation we can diagnose which channels are being effected and treat them to restore normal flow of energy and help patients feel calmer and healthier in all aspects of their lives. Each of these channels corresponds to certain emotional qualities and aspects of your personality. For instance the Liver channel is associated with leadership skills, decision making and helping keep order. When out of balance people can be angry, hostile or develop a type of depression we see as anger turned inwards, sometimes described as self loathing. Each of us should have a balance of all emotions to be healthy, however even when in balance we do have tendencies towards certain emotions and behaviors, these problems only arise when one of these aspects becomes top weak or too over powering.
Western research has shown some amazing phenomena occur during an acupuncture treatment. For sake of keeping this brief, I’ll talk mostly about changes which benefit psycho-emotional problems like anxiety or depression. After about 15 minutes of treatment a myriad of changes occur mainly do to a shift in a persons autonomic nervous system. Your autonomic nervous system is somewhat of an autopilot when it comes to your bodies response to stress. It consists of two main functions a sympathetic response, often referred to as Fight or Flight and a parasympathetic response, aka Rest and Digest.
This response is in most cases considered a safety system, our bodies should kick into fight or flight when attacked and this response would have been very necessary during our early years as cave dwellers. Today, while still necessary, we tend to process all stresses as life or death situations, to the point that people often use the term “Paper Tigers” to describe this event when it happens at work.
So, back to that first 15 minutes of acupuncture; and the changes in the autonomic nervous system that start during that time. Patients will often describe a wave of relaxation that comes over them. On the inside of the body we see sweeping changes in blood flow, hormone levels, oxygen levels and even brain function and chemistry. This all occurs during the rest and digest period. Brain waves have been shown to switch from the mental chatter and focus waves to deep sleep and meditation waves. There is marked increase in hormones such a serotonin and dopamine which both play a role in mood regulation. Systemically capillaries dilate and bring fresh blood to all the organs helping you remove metabolic waste, (think a mini-detox). This increasing blood flow helps soften muscles, dropping shoulders, an area everyone holds stress. It has also been shown to regulate circadian rhythms (day/night) to help you get a better night sleep. All of these functions occur regardless of where the needles are place and help you feel better overall. When combined with acupuncture points specific to treating emotional problems and calming the spirit acupuncture can be a very powerful tool to help with anxiety and depression whatever the cause.
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