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Acupuncture and Anxiety

Anxiety is hard...

Anxiety can be rotten and I don’t think that anyone who has suffered from anxiety would argue that point. Anxiety can be all-encompassing and completely debilitating. Left unchecked, it can destroy lives and rob people of the life they deserve, and the latest statistics show that this condition isn’t going away any time soon (thanks 'Rona and all the subsequent lockdowns, rules and fear surrounding you! 🙃)

As much as we’ve progressed in leaps and bounds when it comes to talking about mental health, and we’re making progress when it comes to accepting it as a normal health condition like any other, we are still nowhere near where we need to be.

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to mental health concerns or ailments and this means that many people suffer in silence without realising that there is help available. You see, when we fail to talk about things that are bothering us, or medical conditions we are suffering from, we tend to not realise that many others are suffering from the same symptoms. When we talk, we share info, and we often learn that we are not alone. So, it really is more important than ever that we talk about mental health concerns and try to remove the stigma.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a very normal reaction to stressful situations. It’s an innate reaction that we are born with, that natural 'fight or flight' chemical response that our brain emits in stressful situations, but if stress levels don’t return to a normal range, or if they are elevated too often, over time these anxious feelings can become obsessive and overwhelming, and an irrational fear of everyday situations can take over our lives. Again, this can be a very normal reaction to the stresses of our everyday lives, and there are a few different causes, but it's important to know that there is help available.

Anxiety can manifest in many different physical forms and quite often these symptoms can begin quickly and seemingly from out of nowhere. Some of the symptoms of anxiety include chest pain, heart palpitations, racing or pounding heart, trembling, numbness in extremities, shaking, sweating, shortness of breath, feeling faint, feelings of panic or of being overwhelmed, dry mouth, headaches, migraines, stomach pain or digestive issues, fatigue, sleep disturbance, feelings of impending doom or feeling out of control.

In simple terms, when stress is manifesting in physical symptoms, it’s the body’s way of telling us that we are overstressed and that we need to rest. Sometimes all it takes to overcome feelings of anxiousness is a good sleep or some gentle self-talk to remind ourselves that everything is ok, but sometimes it’s not that simple and some extra help is needed. Usually, if our body is getting to this level of anxious state that we are experiencing symptoms, we need to address the situation and it’s time to seek some help.

Chinese Medicine theory and anxiety

In Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, anxiety is considered to affect three of the yang organ systems: the heart, the kidneys, and the spleen. Each organ is associated with an emotion. The Heart is associated with your Shen or spirit including emotions, memory, consciousness and thinking (or in this case overthinking). The spleen is associated with worry. The kidneys are considered to be the organ system that is most affected by adrenal fatigue, stress, anxiety, overwork etc.

It is believed that stress, anger, fear, and grief can cause a disturbance in one of the yang organ systems which causes a disruption in the flow of Qi or life force. This leads to an imbalanced emotional state which can then lead to anxiety.

How can acupuncture help?

In short, acupuncture calms the nervous system. The main aim of acupuncture is to restore the imbalance caused between Yin and Yang by inserting fine needles into the points of energy around the body (the meridian system), to stimulate the body’s own healing process, restoring natural balance and good health.

Chinese medicine and acupuncture offer a few different strategies to help anyone suffering from anxiety. We know that everyone’s experience of anxiety is different and therefore we always take a personalised and holistic approach.

Your acupuncturist will first ask you a series of questions to better understand your symptoms and circumstances, including questions about your constitution to work out the best treatment plan, tailored to your needs. This will include a combination of acupuncture and possibly Chinese herbs but can also include cupping therapy and moxibustion to speed up the healing process.

The beauty of acupuncture is it can help your body adapt to the stresses in your environment. It can regulate and balance the autonomic branch of the nervous system, regulating the stress response, and can slow down your sympathetic (flight or fight) and encourage a parasympathetic response (rest and digest).

It also increases the release of the ‘feel-good' endorphins, which help the body to restore, regulate and heal itself. This is why so many people report feelings of calm or overwhelming well-being after an acupuncture session.

Ever wondered why you sleep so well after an acupuncture session? Stress and anxiety can manifest in sleep issues which then goes on to cause more stress and so on. Your acupuncturist determines the imbalances that cause insomnia or sleep interruption and treats these imbalances to allow a dreamy and restful night’s sleep.

The Gut/Brain connection is also thought to be a major contributing factor when it comes to anxiety and mental health conditions. Acupuncture can support gut health and any issues that are causing an imbalance in the gut.

Some other factors to consider:

We also recommend a few simple changes in lifestyle to speed up the process. There are also many self-help options available:

  • Changes to diet can also help. Nourishing our bodies is key so try to eat to nourish your body and mind. Lots of protein, fatty fish like salmon, plenty of leafy veggies, nuts, and fruit. You may find yourself craving carbs when you’re feeling anxious so add some healthy carbs like a baked potato when you feel the need. Skipping breakfast is a no-no when it comes to anxiety as breakfast sets our hormone levels up for the day, and when we miss breakfast, it can be a downhill slide for the rest of the day. Avoid fatty fast foods.

  • Excess sugar and coffee are adrenal stimulants and can increase anxiety levels. Refined sugars cause massive spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels followed by plummeting lows. Caffeine is another culprit that causes heat in the liver which leads to changes in mood, anxiety, and nervous tension. Both caffeine and sugar deplete Vitamin B, Vitamin D, and Magnesium from the body, and this too can cause anxiety. If you’re a bit of a sweet tooth, try replacing refined sugar with honey (from a bee-keeper, not the supermarket if possible) or try organic maple syrup. Consider ditching the coffee for a delicious organic chai or calming herbal tea like mint, chamomile, lemon balm, or lavender. There are lots of yummy tea blends specifically made for anxiety relief available.

  • Ashwagandha root powder is another option to add to your bedtime routine. Add some powder to your fave plant-based milk over a slow heat, and add some honey for sweetness. It is known to help reduce feelings of anxiety, and has anti-inflammatory, anti-stress and antioxidant properties.

  • Check your Vitamin B and Vitamin D levels. It is thought that deficiencies in these vitamins can play a role in mental health. Taking a magnesium supplement can also help.

  • Exercise. Walking is a great way to combat anxiety. Many anxiety symptoms are caused by shallow breathing and walking naturally regulates our breathing, making sure we have plenty of oxygen getting to our brain. It’s amazing how quickly walking can alleviate symptoms. Anxiety can also be seen as stagnation in Chinese medicine so it’s important to improve life flow in the body.

  • Adding cupping or massage to your treatment plan can speed up the results.

  • Do more of what you love. Add some fun things into your weekly routine.

We also highly recommend talking to a counselor or a psychologist to identify any underlying issues that might need to be worked through.

Anxiety in Teens :

Do you have an anxious teen? Our teens are experiencing anxiety at an alarming rate. Coping with social media and the stresses of growing up in today’s society can be a rollercoaster ride for our kids and this can start the cycle of anxiety at a very young age. In an effort to cope, many teens learn to deal with anxiety as part of their everyday lives, and this can lead to having high functioning anxiety, meaning they learn to live with it and it becomes the norm. Unfortunately, this can lead to bigger health issues in the future so it’s important to deal with anxiety and manage it as soon as possible. Acupuncture has some amazing results when it comes to kids dealing with anxiety and stress.

How often is acupuncture needed?

We recommend once or twice a week to begin with for acute anxiety depending on the severity but once the symptoms are brought under control, we reduce the sessions to once a week then move into the maintenance stage which is usually one session a month. From then on, we reduce the sessions to an as-needed basis.

Acupuncture really is remarkable when it comes to anxiety relief. If you think you could benefit from acupuncture, you can book a session with us here.

The best part about using acupuncture for anxiety? It's really simple, all you have to do is lie down and have a rest for 45 mins (or even a snooze) while we do the work.

We hope this may help someone in need or someone that you know & love.

We'd love to see you soon.

Petra & The Pod Health Co. team x

(As always, please check in with your health professional to make sure this advice is right for you).

Sources: Evidence Based

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