Acupuncture is mostly known to be beneficial for pain. However, it has been proven to be helpful and valuable to treat many conditions, the list is long, but between them exist digestive troubles, nausea, migraine headaches, infertility, and of course, anxiety and depression. If you have had acupuncture before, you know that it produces a deep state of relaxation and after a treatment, you feel calm and relaxed.
Anxiety and depression are two of the most common psychiatric disorders. Anxiety presents as the feeling of anticipated danger, fear, and apprehension. Depression, as a feeling of emptiness, sadness, misery, loss of hope and in occasions can present with suicidal thoughts. Depression can occur by itself but can also be a result of anxiety.
Antidepressants, anxiolytics, and psychotherapy have been successful in treating both conditions, however, there is relapse for both anxiety and depression because of non-compliance with medications, side effects of treatments or the high cost of psychotherapy. This is the reason why more and more people seek complementary and alternative therapies, acupuncture is one of them.
According to Chinese Medicine, the way acupuncture works for the treatment of these conditions is by unblocking the flow of energy (known as Qi) in the body and by balancing yin and yang. When the energy is blocked, it doesn’t flow properly and may result in different symptoms. By inserting needles in specific points in the body, the energy is unblocked and the body comes back to balance.
Research has shown that acupuncture helps depression, anxiety, and stress in different ways. One of them is by regulating the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS is the part of the Nervous System that regulates body functions that are automatic or unconscious, such as blood pressure, heart and breathing rate, body temperature, metabolism, digestion, urination, and others. The ANS has two parts, the Sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) (the yin and yang in Chinese Medicine). The SNS is the one that prepares the body for stressful or emergency situations, you might have heard of it as the “fight or flight” response system. When active it increases blood pressure and heart rate making us alert. The PNS is the opposite, it is the “rest and digest” system, it conserves, restores, heals and repairs the body.
Studies have shown that acupuncture inhibits the SNS and activates the PNS helping the body relax, heal, restore and repair, reducing the sense of anxiety and stress and lifting the mood.
Another way acupuncture can help mood disorders is via neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are substances that transmit messages in the nervous system. Endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline are some of them. Endorphins are known as natural pain killers but they are also “happy hormones”, they give us strength, confidence, good mood, a sense of well-being and happiness. Doctors recommend running, walking, meditating, laughing because they all stimulate the release of endorphins, but guess what? acupuncture does it too! Serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline are also associated with levels of happiness and are stimulated by acupuncture as well.
The relaxing and calming effects of acupuncture are immediate. Antidepressants can take a few weeks to start working so acupuncture is a good option while you are waiting for the antidepressant effects to kick in. Acupuncture can also enhance the response to prescription anti-anxiety medications and may also reduce the medication side effects. As expected, acupuncture can’t always treat moderate or severe depression or anxiety alone and you should always talk with your doctor before considering reducing or going off of any medication.
Acupuncture does not change the amount of stress you go through but can change how you and your body respond to it. When the nervous system is balanced, we feel well, we are more effective in coping with everyday stressors, we are stronger and less susceptible to illness.
As always I am here to help, to listen and to answer any questions you may have about how acupuncture can help you. Don’t hesitate to contact me.