With stress so common in our lives today, more and more people are suffering from anxiety. Ongoing anxiety can interfere with day-to-day activities and relationships and when this happens, it may be diagnosed as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety can develop from a combination of stress, personality, gender, and life events such as an illness or past troubles. Those suffering from generalized anxiety experience symptoms such as constant over-thinking and worrying, restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, and fatigue.
Chronic anxiety can also lead to other health problems, such as headaches, insomnia, digestive problems, or teeth grinding. Of course, all of us worry from time to time about finances, family, health, and future, but it becomes a problem for us when we are thinking and worrying constantly or when it prevents us from relaxing or unwinding from our daily stresses.
Western medical treatment for anxiety usually is with medications and/or counseling or therapy. Lifestyle changes, coping skills and relaxation techniques can also help.
Acupuncture fortunately has a great deal to offer anxiety sufferers. Stress responds very positively to acupuncture, and so do the many stress-related health problems we experience, including chronic anxiety. Acupuncture has a regulating effect on the body- it works by normalizing the body’s internal systems and processes. One of those systems is our autonomic nervous system, which manages our body’s states of arousal (“fight-or-flight”) and relaxation (“rest-and-digest”).
Normally our body fluctuates somewhere between states of arousal/stress and states of calm/relaxation. However, ongoing stressors can leave our body in a state of chronic stress or anxiety, leading to health problems. Acupuncture helps to bring our body back to its calm, relaxed state of healthy functioning.
This is a western perspective of how acupuncture can help with anxiety. However, Chinese medicine (TCM) has its own language for talking about patterns of disease and offers a different perspective. A big difference between Chinese medicine and Western medicine is the way in which disease is viewed- Chinese medicine sees health and disease as a continuum. Anxiety is seen as an imbalance or excess of the emotion “worry”. Worry is a normal emotional state which enables concentration, memorization, and focus, however when worry gets out of balance it leads to constant thinking, brooding, worrying, and anxiety.
Anxiety can be caused by our lifestyle, if we have too many stressors or too often, or we can be prone to it due to a constitutional imbalance or weakness in the spleen, heart, lungs, or a combination of these organs. Excessive worry causes our qi-energy to get stuck and not flow properly. This, in turn, can injure the organs, causing additional symptoms, depending on the organ(s) affected.
By redirecting the body’s energy flow with acupuncture, we can help the body to correct internal imbalances and treat the cause of anxiety symptoms. Acupuncture also works towards emotional balance, so that we are better able to deal with daily stresses without falling into excessive worry.
Acupuncture is also an excellent complement to therapy or counseling, helping to relieve the physical symptoms of anxiety and calm the emotions while a person works through the behavioural aspects of their anxiety. Making lifestyle changes to reduce stress and to better deal with it can also contribute positively to treatment.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St., downtown Kelowna. He can be reached at www.okanaganacupuncture.com.