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Writer-s-Bloc

Anxiety and acupuncture

By Michael Côté

Anxiousness means fretting about what may happen. 

It’s fairly normal to experience it every once in while, but anxiety can become a persistent and severe problem that needs addressing.

In this case, anxiety is considered a medical problem and it’s important to seek help.

Typical treatments can include counselling, cognitive behavioral therapy, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication like lorazepam and buspirone.

In western medicine, it’s common to separate the mind and the body; we often think that our emotions are just in our head. In Chinese medicine, emotions are a part of our physiological processes and can be both a cause and an effect of health problems.

Someone who is experiencing a heart attack, for example, will often have anxiety, and someone who is chronically anxious may give themselves a heart attack.

This often leads to a vicious cycle that is difficult to break without help. Emotions are  closely tied to our overall health, and experiencing one emotion in excess can be a symptom of a health problem.

Proper health in Chinese medicine is defined as the harmony of various processes in our body. This includes our digestive cycle, hormone regulation, sleep cycle, circulation, and metabolism.

These processes are linked to our internal organs: the Spleen Stomach, for example, are said to be responsible for managing the transportation and transformation of nutrients.

Each organ system needs to work in harmony with other organ systems and when all of these systems work in harmony, we have homeostasis.

The most important system, in Chinese medicine, is our digestive system. The organ system responsible for managing the transportation of nutrients is called the Spleen system. 

This isn’t the same as the physical spleen itself, rather the Spleen system is way to describe how we view a particular process in the body in Chinese medicine. 

The Spleen system forms the foundation of health as it nourishes the rest of our body like our Liver, Heart, Kidney, and Lung systems.

These organ systems are also associated with specific emotions.

  • The Spleen system is associated with pensiveness, worry, and trust
  • Liver system is associated with irritability, depression and decisiveness
  • Heart system is associated with anxiety, joy, and passion
  • Lung system is associated with grief, and instinct
  • Kidney system is associated with fear, fright and willpower.

It is normal and healthy to experience these emotions at some point in our lives. However, these emotions can become a problem if they become overwhelming and interfere with daily life. 

This may be an indication that an organ system isn’t functioning properly. If someone becomes anxious even when they have nothing to worry about, it’s a pretty good indication that something is wrong. In this case, we would look at which internal system is out of balance and select the appropriate acupuncture points, herbs, and lifestyle changes to help restore harmony.

Does acupuncture actually work for anxiety? Chinese medicine is quite foreign so you may want an explanation of how acupuncture works within the context of allopathic medicine.

Fortunately, there is a great deal of research on acupuncture and how it affects the body. Acupuncture regulates your feel-good hormones like serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA, neuropeptide Y and ACTH, which can alter the body’s chemistry and alleviate negative emotional states. 

In other words, acupuncture reduces sensitivity to pain and stress which promotes relaxation, thereby reducing anxiety and worry. Acupuncture also stimulates the release of our body’s opioids that influences the autonomic nervous system. 

This stimulates the relaxation response and takes us out of fight-or-flight mode. Also, acupuncture can reverse pathological changes in inflammatory cytokine levels that are associated with anxiety.

Acupuncture has a real and measurable effect on the body’s hormones, neurotransmitters, and autonomous nervous system. These influences can cause positive changes in our behaviour and biochemistry that counter the effects of stress and anxiety.

Because acupuncture is able to do this without medication, many people are turning to it for a drug-free option to reduce anxiety. 

It is important that you seek someone who is capable of making a Chinese medicine diagnosis before getting acupuncture. In British Columbia, they should be a registrant of the CTCMA.

I’d like to share with you a personal experience with anxiety and its impact on my health. I was getting married and doing my final exams for Chinese medicine at the same time, foolishly, and that stress I placed on myself caused me to develop irritable bowel syndrome. 

The pain in my gut was so severe I lost consciousness and knew I needed to seek professional help. I did a course of acupuncture treatments to stop pain and took Chinese herbal medicine to regulate my gut. 

This resolved the symptoms, but I also needed to change the way I dealt with stress. I was told about Dale Carnegie’s book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, which was so profoundly helpful that I now recommend it to anyone who comes to me dealing with stress, worry, or anxiety. 

Of course, as with any health problem, lifestyle is important in recovery and for maintaining health. Eating well, getting appropriate exercise, meditating, and speaking with counsellors can all help people dealing with anxiety.

Since moving to Kelowna, I’ve discovered that we have some wonderful resources and support teams available in the community like the CMHA and Okanagan Clinical Counselling.

If you have any questions or concerns, or would like to book a consultation or treatment please get in touch with me at the Okanagan Acupuncture Centre at 1625 Ellis St. in downtown Kelowna.

Michael Côté, R.TCM.P, is a registered practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine.



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Welcome to Writer’s Bloc, an opinion column for guest writers to share their experiences and viewpoints with our readers.

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