Although Western Medicine has various methods on how to relieve stress and anxiety, Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture can be a great and effective natural alternative.
How Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupunture Can Relieve Stress & Anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses worldwide. Almost all of us can relate to the feeling of excessive worry and exaggerated stress about everyday life events with no obvious reason for concern. Anxiety can develop gradually and be continually unsettling and feel unresolvable, making it difficult to overcome.
From shortness of breath and variations in heart rate to full-blown debilitating panic attacks and insomnia, anxiety is a complex condition that western doctors generally treat with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and medication.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
When anxiety is extreme and ongoing, not just a phase, it becomes Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates GAD affects about 6.8 million American adults a year.
People with symptoms of GAD tend to expect a negative outcome in situations and have uncontrollable worry throughout all aspects of life. Often, the worry is unrealistic or out of proportion. As a result, daily life becomes a constant state of worry, fear, and dread. Eventually, the anxiety takes over, dominating the ability to think clearly, interferring with daily functioning.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
Social Anxiety Disorder is another western diagnosis that causes anxiety. Characteristics of SAD include paralyzing fear of social situations and of being judged or humiliated regardless of what happens. About 15 million American adults live with this disorder according to the ADAA.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a diagnosis that is challenging to live with. It develops after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Symptoms of fear, paranoia, and shortness of breath may begin immediately after the crisis. Triggers of PTSD can result in intense episodes without warning. Common causes include war, natural disasters, or a physical attack.
These are just a few of the disorders outlined by the western medical field that are the cause of anxiety.
What physical mechanisms cause anxiety in our bodies?
According to Healthline, anxiety is challenging because it triggers a flight-or-fight stress response and releases a flood of chemicals like adrenaline, into your system. Initially, this increases your heart and breathing rate, to allow your brain more oxygen. While this is designed to prepare you for an intense situation, without actual danger, it can result in anxiety responses such as rapid, shallow breathing, irritability, headaches, nausea and a sense of doom.
This Covers the Western Perspective, How About TCM?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Traditional Chinese Medicine views anxiety, not as a brain or chemical dysfunction, but as inner organ energetic imbalances caused by dietary, environmental, lifestyle, and hereditary factors. According to TCM theory, each of the organs plays a role in the emotions and have their own specific emotional sets attributed to them.
For example, worry and excessive mental work are symptoms of a Spleen disorder. Lack of joy and despair are symptoms of a heart disorder. Liver emotional symptoms are anger, frustration, and irritability. Similarly, with lung disorders, we see more grief, sadness, and detachment. And finally, with an imbalance of the kidneys, a person may be fearful, isolated, and lack willpower.
The Shen and Emotional Wellbeing
According to TCM, the Shen resides in the heart. The character Shen (神) is a general term for divine being and is translated as “Spirit” or “Mind.” The Shen is the basis for consciousness, cognition, emotional life, and our “presence.” It is responsible for things like thinking, planning, and feeling, and life outlook. It is the Shen that is most strongly affected by emotional impacts in our lives and is where the experience of anxiety stems from.
The emotions associated with anxiety will cause the muscular structure surrounding the chest cavity to constrict and tighten around the lungs and heart. This chest constriction restricts the qi flow to the heart as well as to the liver, a condition diagnosed in TCM as stagnation in the liver. For that reason, if tension isn’t released, it will continue to strain the heart and create heat to built-up. Left untreated, this results in disturbing the Shen causing anxiety and panic.
Relieving Stress & Anxiety with Traditional Chinese Medicine Treatments
When using TCM to relieve stress & anxiety, the main focus is to calm and harmonize the Shen. By relieving the pressure on the heart while relaxing the patient the other underlying organ disorders can then be addressed.
Following are a few TCM diagnosis and symptoms that may result in ongoing anxiety:
Liver Qi Stagnation Affecting the Spleen:
Feeling of irritability, moodiness, poor appetite, tightness or pain in right upper abdomen/lower ribs area, muscular tension, feeling “stressed” even when there are no triggers, fatigue, and alternating constipation and loose stools.
Heart and Kidney Not Communicating:
Feeling of fear with adrenaline, difficulty sleeping, rapid heartbeat, palpitations, heat in the chest, frequent urination, irritability, low back and knee pain and weakness, and excessive mental energy.
Heart/Spleen Qi Deficiency:
Feeling of ongoing fatigue even after a good night of sleep, palpitations, obsessive thoughts and worry, poor appetite, and abdominal distention especially after eating.
Heart Blood Deficiency:
Palpitations, anxiety and depression, flustered, poor memory, dizziness, confusion and unable to focus, not feeling grounded, difficulty staying asleep, and a dull-pale complexion.
Heat in the Heart:
Agitated and anxious, heat in the chest, “flying off the handle”, trouble sleeping, overtalking, scattered and unfocused, and a red flushed face.
How Can Acupuncture Provide Relief for Stress & Anxiety?
The ongoing research on the effectiveness of how acupuncture can relieve stress & anxiety and other ailments continue to show positive results. In 2017, the largest study in the Acupuncture Evidence Project, authored by Dr. John McDonald, Ph.D. and Dr. Stephen Janz, found that patients receiving acupuncture had over twice the reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression. Whereas, conventional treatment of medication and psychotherapy is much lower. Below is some of the evidence that supports these findings.
Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is comprised of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Information is received from the body and the external environment and either triggers a “fight or flight response” by the SNS or a “rest and relax” response by the PNS. These signals direct the body to either increase the heart rate and contraction or to lower blood pressure and to slow the heart rate.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
One of the most sensitive measures of the body’s ability to deal with stress is the Heart Rate Variability (HRV). When the body responds to a stressful event HRV will only elevate the heart rate temporarily. Consequently, an appropriate HRV response is a sign of better health in all areas including a positive mental health picture.
Acupuncture has been shown to improve HRV by helping the body to be resilient and to easily process life stressors. When the body is under stress, an area of the brain called the hypothalamus releases neurochemicals. These increase heart rate and ready the body to respond to the potential dangers of a situation.
Research shows that acupuncture calms this response by increasing the release of endorphins, the “feel-good” chemicals that lower heart rate and blood pressure, relieve pain and support digestive function. Because of this calming effect on the body those feelings of anxiety and panic when an outside trigger is occurring or during a pervasive anxiety cycle is decreased.
This is similar to resolving the Liver Qi constraint. By opening up the chest, relaxing the muscle tissue, and allowing the blood to flow thereby lowering the blood pressure, the Shen or spirit of the heart is calmed helping relieve stress & anxiety.
Lifestyle Changes to Consider to Relieve Stress & Anxiety
What can you do to support your well-being? Sometimes it is our own life choices that we make that are contributing to our condition. Ongoing anxiety is a challenging disorder to work with. Read on and see if any of these recommendations may be positive changes for you. Most importantly, the work you do at home proactively for your health will greatly contribute to a positive outcome of how you can relieve your stress & anxiety.
- Keep physically active. Exercise is a powerful stress reducer. Having a daily routine is important so that you’re physically active most days of the week. Besides the overall health benefits, exercise is a great way to blow off steam.
- Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. These substances can cause or worsen anxiety. Following through with quitting can be a challenge, so look into finding a program or support group for help.
- Quit smoking and cut back or quit drinking caffeinated beverages. Both nicotine and caffeine can worsen anxiety and even be the cause of it.
- Use stress management and relaxation techniques. Visualization techniques, meditation, yoga, Tai Qi and Qigong are all good examples of ways to become more embodied, centered and relax the nervous system. To learn more about meditation and different techniques click to read my blog, “Meditation & Happiness: What you need to know”.
- Make sleep a priority. We have a widespread epidemic of sleep deprivation due to overwork and overstimulation in our country. Try to end your screen time 3 hours before sleep and having the light out before 11 pm nightly is key to your health and well-being.
- Eat healthy. Focus on eating steamed or lightly cooked vegetables, good quality meats, grains in moderation, and avoid spicy foods, sugars, and cheap comfort food. You will generally feel so much better with a balanced home-cooked diet. Find out more how the TCM perspective of diet can benefit your health here.
- Socialize. Remember- we are social creatures. Spend time with supportive friends or family when you are feeling anxious and insecure. Having a nice cup of tea and conversation or going out for a bit of fun can help shift your outlook.
What are Some Natural Remedies For Stress and Anxiety?
Rose Bud Tea
Comforts the heart and Shen and gently moves the blood. The fragrance is so nice to breathe in at the end of a stressful day or whenever you are feeling the need for support. Purchase dried rosebuds – often found in the boxed tea section, or you can order online. Drop 2 or 3 small buds into a cup, let steep for a few minutes and enjoy!
Calms the nervous system and is a helpful sleep aid. Easily found in the tea section of your local grocery store. If you’re drinking it to help with sleep, have a cup shortly before bed. Just drop a teabag in, steep for a few minutes and relax with a nice cup of tea.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that many people are deficient in – our ancestors had a ready supply of magnesium from organ meats, seafood, mineral water and even swimming in the ocean. In contrast to current times, due to dietary and lifestyle stressors, we often need to supplement this mineral to fulfill our daily needs.
Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer, which can help relieve stress & anxiety. It is also a nervous system relaxant that assists with fear, irritability, and restlessness. When we are anxious, we hold on to so much tension within our muscles, and this is a super-healthy and easy way to create calmness.
Foods that are rich in magnesium to add to your diet are leafy greens, avocados, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
The current RDA for adults is between 320 and 420mg daily.
Let’s Work on Your Mental Health Together
Let’s do what we can to get you grounded, calm your heart and mind and give you a better feeling of safety and trust in the present. By coming in for regularly scheduled acupuncture sessions we can address how we can relieve your anxiety, stress level, and underlying imbalances while working toward restoring your sense of well-being. I have seen acupuncture relieve patients of stress and anxiety permanently.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has been a healing force for patients for thousands of years. I am available here for you – to design an approach with acupuncture, Chinese Herbal medicine and dietary and lifestyle advice. Whether you are on medication and participating in psychotherapy, or looking for a purely alternative route, Chinese medicine is a wonderful proven holistic approach to integrate into your daily life. Click here to schedule an appointment of if you’re looking for acupunture in Denver.