More and more people seem to be turning to acupuncture to help with low level anxiety in their lives. Everyone experiences anxiety to some degree or another – and usually not without reason, trepidation before a big unknown journey or at a job interview perhaps.
People who suffer with chronic anxiety however can feel this uneasy and unsettled feeling pretty much all the time and it can have a crippling affect on their day to day lives. People can be aware that they should not be responding to their environment in such a way and rationally explain to themselves that they should be feeling calm and happy, yet their nervous system still continues in a state of panic and high alert. It’s exhausting after a while – which could explain why it’s not just in the head. Anxiety has physical manifestations such as palpitations, dizziness, headaches and muscle aches to name but a few.
So what’s the cause? Some people are thought to be genetically more prone to anxiety, but the biological mechanism itself is seen as an excessive response of the nervous system to non threatening stimulus. The reason or the way this response is triggered can depend on the individual. Some will be affected due to past trauma with specific triggers causing anxiety problems. Others might respond to a normal anxiety trigger for humans, but then for some reason their nervous system is unable to switch back to ‘calm’ mode. So much of our functioning is beyond our normal control, we really do depend on our internal auto-pilot to regulate our nervous system so we can get on with enjoying our lives.
Acupuncture stimulates certain nerves lying just under the skin. They give a dull tingly effect in the area and work alongside the para-sympathetic nervous system – the ‘calm’ part. I often find that people with chronic anxiety experience sensations more acutely, it is essential to use the thinnest acupuncture needles available. I use the ones I normally reserve for children (who also are very sensitive) as to not overwhelm the person. With successful management of the anxiety we can often move to the normal needles by the 4th session. Regular acupuncture helps the body to remember how to find balance and to switch healthily between both sympathetic and para-sympathetic at ease. Yoga is another technique that does this. The activity followed by conscious relaxation forces you to move between the two. I have seen that my clients who attend a weekly yoga class as well as fortnightly sessions with me experience a dramatic reduction in their anxiety symptoms.
In Chinese medicine, there are different ‘patterns’ within the term ‘anxiety’. Although it is important to work out what pattern you are working with, I have some favourite acupuncture points which nearly always make an appearance! PC 6, ST 36 and Ren14 is a wonderful combination for inducing instant calm and positivity.
When I see people for anxiety we agree on a set of ‘key markers’. This a list of symptoms that we both agree are realistic to address. It might look like ‘ I want more energy, less insomnia, to feel more positive about myself and to not to respond to triggers’. Acupuncture can’t (as I am often asked) miraculously help you shed weight and regain your 19 year old figure overnight, but it can slowly begin to undo the negative effects of a highly alert and stressed nervous system. As well as acupuncture, it is essential to look at other general stimuli that affect the nervous system both positively and negatively. We have to look at caffeine intake, exercise – type and duration and the eating habits for example and try to find a way living that reassures the body and mind that just right now – right at this very moment, everything is just perfect and calm, that we can relax and feel safe.