Acupuncture for Anxiety

by Dr. Andrea Hilborn, ND Originally published in The Kingston Whig-Standard

Everyone has experienced anxiety before — the heart-pounding, sweat-provoking, muscle-tensing state that is our natural response to a threat. Anxiety is an important and natural emotion, but at times it can unnecessarily increase our suffering during stressful situations, or decrease our ability to carry out tasks. Imagine a student, for example, who is about to write a test.

For some, anxiety becomes a constant companion, arising during everyday activities. Many people have completely normal lives despite being constantly anxious, other people are unable to function because of how anxious they feel.

Being anxious all the time can cause physical side effects, such as tight, sore muscles. People prone to anxiety often tire easily, and have difficulty sleeping.

It is frustrating to suffer from so much anxiety, because often those with anxiety sense that their anxiety is holding them back. Maybe they could be making more connections with people. Maybe they could do more to stand out on the job. Maybe they could get more done in the day if they did not have to worry about so many things!

I believe that treatment for anxiety should include a variety of approaches, but one that I often recommend is acupuncture.

Acupuncture is part of Traditional Asian Medicine. It involves putting a small, sterile needle into particular points on the body, referred to as acupuncture points. Usually, the recipient lies on the table, while the practitioner inserts the needles, then remains resting on the table with the needles in for a period of time. The needles usually produce a mild, dull pain when they are first put in. This pain fades quickly. From time to time, the needle might cause a sharper pain, if it brushes against a nerve, tendon or blood vessel. The needle is re-positioned if this happens.

Studies examining acupuncture have been quite varied in their approach, which makes it difficult to generalize the results. Most studies are published in periodicals that are less prestigious or reputable than the mainstays we like to get our information from. However, the vast quantity of studies that show that acupuncture produces a statistically significant positive result indicate that there is indeed something to it. There is also, of course, a very long tradition of using it for healing in Asian countries.

When it comes to anxiety, acupuncture treatment has been found useful in a variety of settings.

Everyone has heard of PMS — premenstrual syndrome. Many a joke has been made at the expense of this condition. Pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder is like PMS on steroids. Every symptom of PMS is magnified. A study comparing acupuncture to “sham acupuncture” (when they make it seem like the person is receiving acupuncture but they really are not), found that it reduced the anxiety symptoms of women suffering from pres-menstrual dysphoric disorder.

In China, researchers randomized 80 anxiety-sufferers into a group who would receive acupuncture, and a group who would receive the drug clonazepam. The acupuncture group received treatment once per week and the clonazepam group took medication daily. At the end of six weeks, the degree of anxiety-reduction was very similar in the two groups.

Nervous patients at a dentist’s office were treated with acupuncture, which help reduce their anxiety before their treatment.

Fifty-two patients about to undergo surgery received acupuncture to a point called Yintang, which is between the eyebrows. This help decrease their anxiety about surgery.

Women undergoing in vitro fertilization often receive acupuncture to help improve the odds of a successful procedure. One study looked at the impact of the acupuncture treatments on the women’s anxiety, which can be troubling during infertility treatments. Four weekly sessions of acupuncture reduced the severity of anxiety.

If you suffer from anxiety, there are more options to consider than just medication. Consider giving acupuncture a try. Most people are a little apprehensive because they expect it to be very painful. Once you have had one needle inserted, you will find that it isn’t so bad.