Restore Mental HealthAcupuncture Clears the Traffic Jam on the Highway of Stress and Anxiety
Creating Mental and Emotional Wellness with Acupuncture
We must all occasionally deal with major upheavals or emotional distress at some points in our lives. These events can trigger a host of unexpected feelings and behaviors from depression and panic attacks to major disruptions in sleep and eating. Not only can acupuncture and Oriental medicine alleviate symptoms associated with mental health issues, it can treat the root cause of the problem by helping to rebalance the body’s internal environment.
What are Mental Health Disorders?
Mental health disorders are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning which result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.
Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder. The good news about mental disorders is that recovery is often possible. Mental disorders can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income. They have been found to be common. Experts estimate that almost a third of people in most countries report sufficient criteria at some point in their life.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Mental Disorders
According to Chinese Medical theory, mental illness occurs when there is imbalance within the body. Imbalance can come from an excess or deficiency of yin and yang that disrupts the flow of qi or energy through the body.
Oriental Medicine does not recognize any mental disorder as one particular syndrome. Instead, it aims to treat the specific symptoms that are unique to each individual using a variety of techniques such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, bodywork, lifestyle/dietary recommendations and energetic exercises to restore imbalances found in the body. Therefore, if 100 patients are treated with Oriental medicine for anxiety, each of these 100 people will receive a unique, customized treatment with different acupuncture points, different herbs and different lifestyle and diet recommendations.
Acupuncture and Oriental medicine have the ability to detect energetic changes that occur in the body and relieve symptoms by restoring equilibrium. The physical and emotional symptoms that you are experiencing will help create a clear picture on which your practitioners can create a treatment plan specifically for you. The basic foundation for Oriental medicine is that there is a life energy flowing through the body which is termed Qi (pronounced chee).
This energy flows through the body on channels known as meridians that connect all of our major organs. According to Chinese medical theory, illness arises when the cyclical flow of Qi in the meridians becomes unbalanced. Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points located near or on the surface of the skin which have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions in order to achieve the desired effect.
The Principle of the Five Elements
The Principle of the Five Elements (known as the Wu Xing) describes the flow of qi and the balance of yin and yang. The Five Elements refer to wood, fire, earth, metal, and water in Eastern philosophy. They are used used to interpret the relationship between the physiology and pathology of the human body and the natural environment.
In Chinese medicine, each element is associated with certain mental/emotional states. For instance, our memory, thought processes, emotional well-being, and consciousness are also attributed to the heart and fire element. When the fire element is in balance, the heart is strong and healthy, the mind is calm and sleep is sound. When the fire element is imbalanced, we may either lack joy (depression) or have an excess of joy (mania). Indicators of an imbalance in the fire element include agitation, nervousness, heartburn, and insomnia.
The Five Elements and Emotions:
- Wood (Liver) – Anger, jealousy, frustration, resentment, bitterness and stress
- Fire (Heart) – Mania and over-excitation
- Earth (Spleen) – Anxiety, pensiveness and worry
- Metal (Lung) – Grief and sadness
- Water (Kidney) – Depression and lack of will
The Acupuncture Treatment
Acupuncture points to treat the emotional and physical effects of mental health disorders are located all over the body.
There seems to be little sensitivity to the insertion of acupuncture needles. They are so thin that several acupuncture needles can go into the middle of a hypodermic needle. Occasionally, there is a brief moment of discomfort as the needle penetrates the skin, but once the needles are in place, most people relax and even fall asleep for the duration of the treatment.
The length, number and frequency of treatments will vary. Typical treatments last from five to 30 minutes, with the patient being treated one or two times a week. Some symptoms are relieved after the first treatment, while more severe or chronic ailments often require multiple treatments.
Study of Acupuncture for Depression
Since the early seventies, studies around the globe have suggested that treating mental health disorders with acupuncture h
as a positive and holistic effect on depressed patients, particularly when used in combination with psychotherapy and herbal treatments.
Psychologist John Allen, from the University of Arizona in Tucson, and Acupuncturist Rosa Schnyer, conducted the very first pilot controlled study on treating depression symptoms with acupuncture in the Western scientific world. In a double blind randomized study, 34 depressed female patients who met the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria were assigned to one of three treatment groups for eight weeks.
The first group received acupuncture treatment specifically tailored to their depression symptoms. The second group received a general acupuncture treatment not specific to depression, and the third group was placed on a waiting list for acupuncture treatment, but received no treatment. The study found that those in the tailored acupuncture treatment experienced a significant reduction in symptoms, compared to those in the non-specific treatment. Moreover, over 50% of the participants no longer met the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for depression after the study.
The study findings suggest that using acupuncture alone could be as effective as other types of treatments for relieving depression symptoms typically used in Western medicine, such as psychotherapy and drugs.
Coping with Stress and Anxiety
By: Lynn Jaffee, LAc, Dipl. OM, MaOM
At one time or another, all of us experience stress. These feelings are a healthy response to events in our lives that may feel beyond our control. When we are healthy and the stress is short-lived, we are usually able to recover without too much wear and tear to our overall health. However, when the stress is extreme, or if it lasts a long time, our emotional health and ultimately, our physical health begin to suffer.
Our bodies are hardwired to help us react to stressful events. At the first sign of a threat, whether real or perceived, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in and facilitates what is called the “fight or flight” response. Our heart rate increases, our pupils dilate, and our digestion temporarily shuts down, directing blood to our extremities, so that if need be, we can either fight what is threatening us, or turn and run if the threat is too formidable.
Unfortunately, the “fight or flight” response, which worked well in caveman days, does not serve us as well if the “threat” is a demanding boss, nasty co-worker or even a worrisome situation that is not being resolved. More often than not, the stress in our lives is long-term, and as a result, we find ourselves in a constant state of “fight or flight”, or stress. Over time, the constant state of stress takes its toll. Cortisol, the body’s stress hormone elevates, blood pressure increases, and our immune function is suppressed. Over time, these symptoms become worse and can develop into anxiety, depression, fatigue, digestive problems, and tension headaches.
Emotions from a Chinese Medical Perspective
In Chinese medicine, stress, anxiety, depression or any strong emotion interrupts the smooth flow of energy throughout the body. According to Chinese medical theory, energy flows through our body through a network of “roads”, almost like a highway system. Stress, anger, or any intense emotion acts like a traffic jam, blocking the free flow of energy in the body. For example, many people who are very stressed out complain of upper back, shoulder and neck pain. This is because stress is causing tension in those areas, blocking the free flow of energy, causing pain, tightness, and often leading to headaches.
In a highway system, when there is road construction or an accident, traffic may be also backed up on other secondary roads that feed into or out of the affected area. This is true in the body, too. Stress may affect many other parts of the body, most notably digestion, the ability to sleep, pain conditions, and blood pressure. Stress can also aggravate an already troublesome health condition.
Through acupuncture, theses energy blockages can be addressed. Acupuncture points serve as the on and off ramps to the energy highway, and can help energy flow smoothly, and alleviate not only the symptoms of stress and anxiety, but the stress and anxiety itself.
From a Western viewpoint, acupuncture works to alleviate stress by releasing natural pain-killing chemicals in the brain, called endorphins. In addition, acupuncture improves circulation of blood throughout the body, which oxygenates the tissues and cycles out cortisol and other waste chemicals. The calming nature of acupuncture also decreases heart rate, lowers blood pressure and relaxes the muscles.