Studies routinely show that patients who engage in regular acupuncture treatments report feelings of calmness, relaxation, and peace of mind—both in the short term and in the long term.1Hollifield, Michael, et al. “Acupuncture for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial.” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, vol. 195, no. 6, 2007, pp. 504-513. A study conducted at the University of Louisville School of Medicine shows that acupuncture calms anxiety-related symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in the long term. Another study by the Beijing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine shows that regular acupuncture treatments, in addition to other forms of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), accelerates recovery from clinical depression.2He, Qingyong, et al. “A Controlled Study on Treatment of Mental Depression by Acupuncture Plus TCM Medication.” Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, vol. 27, no. 3, 2007, pp. 166-169.
Forty million Americans suffer from anxiety and anxiety-related ailments, including social anxiety and panic attacks.3“Facts and Statistics.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. You or someone you know may be seeking a natural anxiety cure, looking to reduce medication or to boost your wellness program with a natural and non-invasive therapy. It should come as good news that mental health management is one of the primary concerns for which patients seek acupuncture.4Wang, Haiyi, et al. “The Most Commonly Treated Acupuncture Indications in the United States: A Cross-Sectional Study.” The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, vol. 46, no. 7, 2018, pp. 1387-1419.
Getting to the Roots of Anxiety
The roots of anxiety may reach far and wide, including family history, trauma, or physical illness. The interconnectedness of mind and body–as seen in studies showing that patients with chronic physical conditions have a higher risk of depression, and those with depression have a higher risk of developing physical illnesses, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes5“Chronic Illness & Mental Health.” National Institute of Mental Health.—illustrates the key difference in how Chinese medicine gets to the roots of anxiety; therefore, anxiety symptoms can develop after a long-term illness, just as chronic anxiety sufferers develop physical manifestations of this imbalance, such as gastrointestinal problems, pain, or migraines.
Imbalance is the key word here, and getting to the root of the imbalance is at the heart of TCM.
How Anxiety is Treated in Chinese Medicine
With different viewpoints of health come different treatment options.
Western medicine traditionally sees the body as various parts, with the treatment goal of eradicating disease; therefore, anti-anxiety medications and psychotherapy are common treatment choices from the Western medicine perspective.
Conversely, traditional Chinese medicine values the interconnectedness of the mind and body, with the treatment goal of balancing the body to achieve both short-term and lasting health; therefore, acupuncture, lifestyle counseling, and herbal medicines are commonly prescribed.
Getting acupuncture isn’t just about getting poked with needles, though. Point selection is based on an in-depth diagnosis obtained by the patient’s health history, using tongue and pulse diagnosis to see what’s going on internally. While Chinese medical practitioners are not required to be psychologists (though some are), a discussion of the patient’s emotional concerns is a valuable part of the intake process and is often revisited throughout the treatment plan.
“Excess heat in the heart system” or “stagnant liver qi” are two examples of Chinese medicine diagnoses for anxiety symptoms. By addressing each patient’s unique presentation, acupuncture helps bring the body into balance in the long term while relieving symptoms of anxiety. This multi-pronged approach is part of the reason why Chinese medicine is also called root-branch medicine: it’s not just concerned with the symptoms (anxiety) but is also concerned with the root cause (a long-term pattern of internal disharmony).
Short-term relief and long-term health and well-being describe the universal treatment protocol for each and every patient of acupuncture and TCM.
What to Expect
Most patients report an improvement in their anxiety symptoms after just a few treatments, but ongoing care is recommended for maintenance, and many patients find substantial relief in regular monthly visits. Acupuncture can be used alone or as a natural complement to other therapies or medications in the management of anxiety.
While there is no specific template for anxiety treatment, short-term relief and long-term health and well-being describe the universal treatment protocol for each and every patient of acupuncture and TCM.