Wellington Acupuncture for Anxiety and Stress
Acupuncture is a safe and promisingly effective treatment for depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia, general stress and other mental health conditions.
Acupuncture Treatment for Anxiety and Stress
Acupuncture is a promising and effective treatment for anxiety (including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and stress. It can reduce chronic anxiety that has failed to respond to other treatments such as medication and cognitive behavioural therapy. If you are experiencing anxiety or stress, acupuncture may help your body to release chemicals that make you feel more relaxed naturally. By doing so, acupuncture can help you to reduce your anxiety symptoms and general stress while returning to activities that matter to you. It may also reduce other symptoms you may have such as trouble sleeping or appetite changes.
Our acupuncturist Natalie Floyd is a member of AMH (Wellington acupuncture for mental health clinical interest group). This is a group of qualified, registered Chinese Medicine practitioners who hold a special interest in mental health. They publicly promote and advocate the use of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine as a valid, safe and effective treatment modality for mental health care.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is commonly described as a feeling of fear, apprehension, worry or nervousness and is a natural response to stress. Anxiety can become a concern if these feelings begin to interfere with your every day life and ability to participate in certain activities. Anxiety disorders often involve persistence of these feelings and the feelings may be intense or debilitating, stopping you from doing things you enjoy. Anxiety disorders are the most common emotional disorders and 1 in 4 New Zealanders are affected by anxiety at some point in their life. Everyone experiences anxiety slightly differently but symptoms may include flutters or butterflies in the stomach, palpitations, rapid breathing or heart-beat, a sensation in the chest, nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety attacks, a feeling the mind and body are disconnected, inability to control painful thoughts or memories, feeling fearful, unsettled or worrying, restlessness, difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
Many people experience anxiety attacks which involves feeling overwhelming worry, distress, fear or apprehension. Attacks may build slowly or worsen when a stressful event nears. Some symptoms of anxiety attacks may include dizziness or feeling faint, shortness of breath, sweating, feeling hot or cold, dry mouth numbness or tingling.
Anxiety is a main aspect of many disorders including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Panic Disorder, Specific Phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Illness Anxiety Disorder, Separation Anxiety Disorder and more.
What is Stress?
Stress is a physical, mental or emotional factor that causes mental or physical tension. This tension is the body's natural response to stress and can be helpful if short-lived. What is considered stressful varies greatly with each individual and involves an aspect of how we perceive circumstances. Stress can be defined as the degree to which we feel overwhelmed or unable to cope due to external pressures that can't be managed. Stress becomes concerning if it becomes excessive or long-lasting and if it leads to feeling that we can't cope.
When we become stressed, our immune system and Sympathetic Nervous System (fight or flight) is activated. Stress can lead to emotional, behavioural or bodily changes. Examples include depression, indecisiveness, trouble sleeping, appetite and digestion changes or irritability.
What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
PTSD is a form of anxiety experienced after a traumatic event (may be a physical attack, rape, car accident, witnessing violence etc).
Anxiety and Stress According to Chinese Medicine
Chinese Medicine recognizes a number of different causes of anxiety and stress. An acupuncturist would work to identify the root cause of this based on what you personally experience, and treat you according to your presentation and individual needs.
The mental or physical tension that occurs in response to stress creates a blockage or form of stagnation in Chinese Medicine that affects particular areas of the body and often leads to frequent sighing. Often the neck, shoulders and jaw muscles physically become tense, feeling tight. The stagnation resulting from stress can also lead to a form of heat in the body and excess energy that rises to the upper body, similiar to the concept of pressure building up inside a corked bottle. Central to emotional well-being are the seven emotions in Chinese Medicine which are anger, joy, fear, worry, grief, fright and sadness. These emotions impact on our physical well-being and vice-verse. If we 'bottle' emotions this heat and stagnation can worsen, while at the other end of the scale is the person who bursts into anger, 'seeing red' with heat in the face, like the cork popping off suddenly. Depending on the individual state of balance someone under stress may have additional symptoms the acupuncturist will identify, such as temple or vertex headaches, eye or tendon problems. Exercise is often considered helpful for 'stress' or what Chinese Medicine terms 'Liver Qi Stagnation' as it helps to move the stagnation.
Anxiety often involves some excess energy in the body (Qi) or heat, in particular in the upper body and head. Difficulty expressing emotions may be related to your anxiety, or there may have been a history of digestive issues with your body struggling to build energy and Blood, leaving you feeling unsettled, anxious and unable to sleep. This is referred to as the ‘Shen’ or Mind/Spirit not being ‘housed’ or ‘anchored’ properly in the physical body.
When energy (or Qi) doesn’t flow properly through the body a type of heat can be created. This heat is related to symptoms like restlessness, overthinking, inability to relax, feeling on edge, a fast heart rate and insomnia. Anxiety also often involves excessive energy or Qi in the upper body and head. This may be felt as excessive thinking or worrying, inability to slow the mind, sensations in the chest or related to breathing. The kind of anxiety that involves excessive worry is also often linked to digestive complaints in Chinese Medicine such as food sensitivities, changes in the bowel motions or tiredness and bloating after eating.
Sometimes a sudden traumatic event can create a disconnection recognized by Chinese Medicine that results in anxiety. Acupuncture treatment commonly helps you identify and understand factors that may be contributing to your anxiety. It provides diet and lifestyle advise to empower you and enable you to help self-manage your condition.
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Standard Treatment for Anxiety and Stress
Standard medical care in New Zealand for most people with anxiety and stress involves a range of treatment options including talking therapy/counselling, learning self-care, exercise and management techniques and/or prescription medications that are often antidepressants. Unfortunately, some people find these options unsatisfactory. A type of antidepressants called SSRI’s are the most commonly used. One issue with these medications is that they take 4-6 weeks (or longer) to have obvious effects, during which time some people stop taking them, experience side effects or have an increased risk of suicide or worsening of their anxiety symptoms. The medication needs to be taken daily, not just when you notice the anxiety, and often has side effects such as nausea, headaches, difficulty sleeping and sexual problems. As a result, patients often communicate a desire for other treatment options to their Doctor. If you are concerned about relying on antidepressant medication, or want another way to help treat your anxiety, acupuncture may be a good option for you.
Can Acupuncture Treatment Help Anxiety, PTSD and Stress?
People commonly report feeling calm and relaxed during and after acupuncture treatment. Research has shown that acupuncture significantly benefits anxiety disorders (such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), stress and anxiety symptoms. In addition, the effects of acupuncture for anxiety and stress have been shown to be long lasting and without the same side effects experienced from taking medication. Having access to another treatment option that has been shown to work can give patients hope when dealing with chronic anxiety that hasn’t responded to conventional treatment. If you have recently been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or experience symptoms of anxiety or stress and are taking medication or receiving therapy, acupuncture might help boost the benefit of these treatments while reducing unwanted side effects. If you have been dealing with chronic anxiety that hasn’t improved significantly with standard treatment, acupuncture is a promising treatment option for you.
Acupuncture has also been shown to be as effective as cognitive behaviour therapy and more effective than no treatment even 3 months after stopping the acupuncture treatment. Electro-acupuncture (involving sending a small electrical pulse through acupuncture needles) has been shown to be more effective than medication for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In the case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, some patients have difficulty discussing their condition. Unlike talking therapy, you are not required to discuss any traumatic event or cause of your anxiety when receiving treatment.
If you are undergoing standard conventional anxiety or stress treatment (such as medication or forms of therapy), acupuncture may boost the benefit of these treatments while reducing unwanted side effects. The holistic nature of acupuncture treatment also works to provide individual insight on diet, lifestyle and other factors that may aggravate or relieve your anxiety, helping to empower you to better cope with it. Acupuncture treatment for Anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been shown to be more effective than medication and better than no treatment even 3 months after acupuncture treatment has stopped. Some instances of anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are eligible for subsidized acupuncture under ACC through an accepted claim.
How does Acupuncture Work for Anxiety and Stress?
How acupuncture helps treat anxiety and stress is not yet fully understood. Acupuncture causes many positive physical, mental and emotional changes. Research has identified a number of mechanisms that are related to the positive effects acupuncture has on anxiety and stress. Acupuncture treatment is complex and due to this it’s hard to study exactly what parts of an acupuncture treatment benefit you. Studies suggest acupuncture helps initiate your body’s self-healing abilities. Part of this is by leading to release of chemicals called neurotransmitters and hormones that are related to mental-emotional wellbeing along with interfering with stress mechanisms. In other words, your body is reminded to produce chemicals that make you feel more relaxed, happier and peaceful. Acupuncture also has an effect on inflammation and immune imbalances that may be associated with chronic anxiety, worry, stress and depression.
Acupuncture changes activity in parts of the brain that play a role in emotions, behaviour and attention along with reducing sensitivity to pain and stress. Anxiety and stress activate the sympathetic nervous system (stress response). In contrast, acupuncture promotes relaxation through the parasympathetic nervous system (peace response), while deactivating the thinking, analytical brain (involved in worry and anxiety).
Acupuncture also results in endogenous opioids (endogenous refers to being made by the body while medication often provides an ‘exogenous,’ synthetic version of these opioids that are not produced by the body naturally and can be highly addictive). Opioids help relieve pain and lead to a relaxed, happy feeling or ‘high’. Your body is capable of producing this effect naturally without the unwanted side effects and potential addiction related to opioid medication.
(I see acupuncture as a way of gently reminding your body to naturally produce the right chemicals and hormones to enable you to feel relaxed and peaceful. A gentle tap in the right direction.)
ACC Acupuncture for Anxiety, PTSD and 'Mental Injury'
Some instances of anxiety may be eligible for subsidized acupuncture under ACC. A key aspect of determining coverage is that the anxiety or PTSD needs to be linked to a physical injury covered by ACC. When making the ACC claim the person submitting the ACC claim needs to additionally request coverage for mental injury in relation to the physical injury claim. Examples of mental injury include anxiety or depression. Once the application is received ACC will then determine what (if any) coverage will be available to the patient. The kinds of cases eligible for subsidized acupuncture under ACC for mental injury often involve a case manager from ACC that works with the patient. Sometimes these are referred to as ‘sensitive claims’ made through a General Practitioner or Registered Counsellor in relation to sexual assault, abuse, criminal acts or physical attacks. Some patients choose not to go through the claims process due to the sensitivity of the event.
To be eligible for the subsidized ACC Acupuncture price a patient requires an ACC45 number that includes an accepted claim for the mental injury (anxiety or PTSD) they want treatment for, (and this must be connected to a physical injury).
If you are unsure about your eligibility the first step is to see your Doctor or an ACC Registered Counsellor. You can call the ACC Patient Helpline on 0800 101 996.
You can also contact the clinic online or by phone with your questions but we are unable to initiate or complete the claims process for you.
M: 027 439 6287
Auriculotherapy Ear Acupuncture Wellington: NADA Protocol
Your acupuncturist may recommend using a group of points on your ear called the 'NADA' protocol. This set of points is commonly used when treating depression, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or addiction. Many patients find this to be useful for prolonging the effects of treatment as they go home wearing 'ear seeds' or tiny 'press needles' on their ear to help further manage their health while away from the clinic.
What Happens in an Acupuncture Treatment?
Acupuncture is an ancient form of medicine that is becoming increasingly more researched. It has a holistic approach, meaning it sees the individual person as a whole, and therefore sees the mind and body as being closely interconnected. Different acupuncturists will have different styles and approaches to treatment. Often, the treatment will involve taking your health history and discussing what you’re concerned about. You might discuss how long you’ve experienced anxiety, what the symptoms are for you, what makes it better or worse, if there was anything connected to when it started for you, if you have support and ways to cope with it and what symptoms or activities you would like to improve through treatment. Acupuncturists should be sensitive to your needs so if discussing this is difficult, it’s ideal they don’t push you and take a gentle approach. (It is not necessary for you to discuss any traumatic event that triggered your anxiety specifically if you do not wish to). The acupuncturist will then examine your tongue’s shape, color, and coating, feel your pulse, and possibly perform some additional physical examinations depending on your individual health needs. Using these unique assessment tools, the acupuncturist will be able to recommend a proper treatment plan to address your particular condition.
To begin the acupuncture treatment, you lay comfortably on a treatment table while precise acu-points are stimulated on various areas of your body. Most people feel no or minimal discomfort as the fine, pre-sterilised needles are gently placed. The needles are usually retained between five and 30 minutes and the entire session will take up to 1 hour. Your acupuncturist may recommend and include other treatment techniques such as cupping, moxibustion and auriculotherapy (using ear seeds or tiny needles on points on the ear) with your permission if they are appropriate for your condition.
How Do I Choose the Right Acupuncturist?
At Tao Clinic, we hand pick the best and highly trained acupuncturists in the region. Our acupuncturists are recognized ACC treatment providers and hold a minimum four year Bachelor of Health Science that consists of a combination of both traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Biomedical training. To guarantee the standard of training and competency, we advise that you always verify that your acupuncturist is registered with one of the two regulation body for acupuncturist in New Zealand:
Links to Research and Information
Wang X, Wang Z, Liu J, Chen J, Liu X, Nie G, et al. Repeated Acupuncture Treatments Modulate Amygdala Resting State Functional Connectivity of Depressive Patients. NeuroImage Clin. 2016;12:746–52. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5079358/ [Accessed 17th October 2019]
Macpherson H, Richmond S, Bland M, Brealey S, Gabe R, Hopton A, et al. Acupuncture and Counselling for Depression in Primary Care: A Randomised Controlled Trial. PLOS Med. 2013;10(9). Available from: https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001518#abstract1 [Accessed 17th October 2019]
Liu Y, Feng H, Mo Y, Gao J, Mao H, Song M, et al. Effect of Soothing-Liver and Nourishing Heart Acupuncture on Early Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor Treatment Onset for Depressive Disorder and Related Indicators of Neuroimmunology: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. J Tradit Chinese Med. 2015;35(5):507–13. Available from: http://www.journaltcm.com/modules/Journal/contents/stories/155/3.pdf [Accessed 17th October 2019]
MacPherson H, Schroer S. Acupuncture as a Complex Intervention for Depression: A consensus method to develop a standardised treatment protocol for a randomised controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2007 Jun;15(2):92–100.
MacPherson H, Richmond S, Bland J, Lansdown H, Hopton A, Kang’ombe A, et al. Acupuncture, Counselling, and Usual Care for Depression (ACUDep): Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials. 2012 Nov 14;13(209)