You might think acupuncture is for hipsters who don’t believe in Western medicine or for your aging parent with chronic back pain, but a growing body of research shows that acupuncture can help treat a condition that affects everyone from time to time: anxiety.
Managing severe anxiety can be tricky because it generally includes therapy, which might not provide results for months, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. What's more, it can require anxiety medication, which can have serious side effects, says Ladan Eshkevari, PhD, CRNA, LAc, a certified acupuncturist, a physiologist, and the assistant director of the Nurse Anesthesia Program at the School of Nursing & Health Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Yet when acupuncture for anxiety is effective, symptoms lessen after the first few visits, and practitioners like Eshkevari are confident it attacks the problem at its roots.
How Acupuncture for Anxiety Works
Ancient Chinese medicine describes an energy force called Qi that regulates the body’s overall health, according to University of Chicago Medicine. Like blood in the circulatory system, Qi moves throughout the body via pathways called meridians. When factors like injury, stress, poor nutrition, or a change in environment disrupt the flow of Qi, health issues follow, according to the University of Miami Health System. By inserting needles at specific points in the body, acupuncturists restore the balance of Qi and the body’s overall health, University of Chicago Medicine reports.
This concept might seem outdated to some, but Daniel Hsu, DAOM (Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine), LAc, a practitioner at New York AcuHealth Acupuncture in New York City, says Qi is just a metaphor for metabolic function, or the chemical reactions constantly taking place in the body.
Acupuncturists insert each needle half a millimeter away from a nerve, Dr. Hsu explains. Depending on where the needles go, acupuncture can cause the nervous system to produce painkilling chemicals, jump-start the body’s natural ability to heal itself, or stimulate the part of the brain that controls emotions, including anxiety. All of these results, Hsu adds, can help people feel more balanced and treat a variety of illnesses.
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