Overcome Anxiety with Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine

Overcome Anxiety with Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine

25 October 2015 by Caitlin Armit

The anxiety experience

Anxiety is a feeling which is familiar to most people at some stage in their lives. It generally encompasses a sensation of nervousness, restlessness and relentless instability. The word anxiety is often used interchangeably with other emotions such as fear, worry or stress. One factor that makes anxiety unique is time orientation – an emotion such as fear tends to be an alarm reaction to a present danger and anxiety is a future-oriented nervousness involving preparation for what may or may not occur even if this exact ‘thing’ cannot be identified. Anxiety is typically considered to be a natural response similar to the fight or flight phenomenon and involves physical manifestations such as muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbance, palpitations or breathing difficulties.

Here’s a little exercise for you: For 30 seconds, breath shallowly and rapidly as though you’ve just been for a big run. You may notice that it’s slightly difficult to return your breathing to normal or that you feel fidgety or tired. Chances are that you weren’t exactly thinking calm thoughts during those 30 seconds either. For some people, these sensations can be an everyday occurrence. If you sense real danger (for example, you may realise that you need to swerve suddenly to avoid a car accident), these physiological responses give you the boost you need to either stay and fight in the situation or run for your life. Most of our modern worries, stresses and dangers are not life or death situations however we still have this natural fight or flight response mechanism. When you have the reaction to a stimulus but don’t fight or flight, your stress hormones remain in your nervous system and can lead to anxiety. Some people can feel anxious about even the smallest tasks – getting on the bus, sending a text message, deciding what to eat – it needn’t be a rational event to feel anxious about but the feeling is still there.

Anxiety can be considered a disorder on its own or it can be part of the symptomatology of more complex disorders such as: eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa), mood disorders (major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder), cognitive disorders (dementia), personality disorders (paranoid schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder), substance related disorders (nicotine or alcohol), childhood personality disorders (separation anxiety disorder) or general anxiety disorders (social phobias, post traumatic stress disorder). Anxiety is also a common symptom for people who are in a stage of abstinence from alcohol addiction. Symptoms such as fidgeting, an inability to sit still, sweating, jittering and a constant desire to be ‘doing something’ are red flags indicating withdrawal and anxiety.


What can I do to manage it?

Anything which counteracts palpitations, nervousness, shallow breathing and racing thoughts will be beneficial. Numerous studies report the benefits of exercise on emotional health but did you know that singing also calms your nervous system? It doesn’t need to be a big production and performance – even some gentle humming or quietly singing along to your favourite songs in your bedroom, car or shower can help to soothe your nervous system quickly.

Mindfulness meditation is another practice gaining more popularity. There is a concept in Chinese Medicine that is relevant to mindfulness meditation – qi follows yi. Your qi is your energy and your yi is your thought. Anxiety requires a shift of focus, attention and energy to the things which calm us or motivate us or inspire us. This takes a lot of practice but part of your recovery from anxiety is about creating new habits and developing tools to manage it. Try a meditation class, yoga, tai chi or qi gong class and put this idea of qi follows yi into practice.


Treatment in Western Medicine

Treatment using Western medicine involves Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), counselling and medication with anxiolytics. It should be noted that the use of anxiolytic medications are known for side effects and drug abuse through overconsumption and dependency and they can be especially dangerous for those with alcohol addictions.


Anxiety in Chinese Medicine

Anxiety comes under the umbrella of “Yu Zheng” which roughly translates to Emotional Disorder. As with other emotional problems, Chinese Medicine views these as a body/organ disharmony rather than a direct problem with brain function. The diagnoses of Chinese Medicine pathologies related to anxiety require an understanding of many lifestyle factors.

Chinese Medicine recognises a particular relationship between different emotions and corresponding organs. For example:

  • Anger, frustration and resentment are associated with liver organ disharmony
  • Worry, dwelling and overwork are associated with spleen organ disharmony
  • Fear (of a real and tangible threat) and lack of willpower are associated with the kidneys
  • Grief, detachment and sadness are associated with the lungs
  • Lack of joy or excitement are associated with the heart.

Anxiety is most closely associated with a heart pathology though realistically it is a combination of factors involving the kidneys, liver and spleen also. In Chinese Medicine, the heart governs all feelings and emotions and plays a key role in our relationships and ability to experience intimacy with ourselves and others. When the heart qi is impaired, we may perceive danger in place of security and intimacy. Bear in mind that this perceived threat is very real to the sufferer.


Why utilise acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a calming, non-invasive, and easily accessible treatment with few side effects and thus can play a powerful role in the treatment of many mental health diseases. It is also a treatment that patients report to be less distressing than talk-therapy modalities such as counselling.


If you have been experiencing anxiety or have been diagnosed with a condition related to anxiety, contact Caitlin at Fusion Acupuncture & Natural Therapies for help with your recovery. 


Acupuncture treatment for women with concurrent substance use and anxiety/depression: an effective alternative therapy?

Acupuncture for Treating Anxiety and Depression in Women: A Clinical Systematic Review

Acupuncture Evidence Project


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