Acupuncture for Emotional Health

At Acupuncture in the Park, we work with a number of patients who are struggling with:

As practitioners, we know that your emotional health can impact your physical health; and the reverse is also true, your physical health can impact your emotions

Stress 

Most people today lead busy lives with many roles and responsibilities.  At times the stressful nature of our lives can become overwhelming or unsatisfying.  Prolonged stress keeps your body in a constant state of readiness, which upsets the balance of several hormones and is ultimately depleting.

Practitioners of Chinese medicine have a different explanation as to how stress makes you ill.  According to the Chinese, energy flows in our body through a network of “roads”, like a highway system.  Stress or anxiety can interrupt the smooth flow of energy throughout the body, acting like a traffic jam. For example, many people who are under a lot of stress 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 also be backed up on secondary roads that feed into or out of the affected area.  This is true in your body, too.  Stress may affect many other parts of your body, most notably digestion, the ability to sleep, pain conditions, and immunity.  Stress can also aggravate an already troublesome health condition.

Through acupuncture, these 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, but the stress itself.

Anxiety  

For some people anxiety seems to come out of nowhere and creep up at unexpected moments.  For others, it’s predictable and associated with certain events, fears, or situations.  Things like driving on the highway, eating in restaurants, and spiders all have the potential to create anxiety. 

If you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks, you’re familiar with the symptoms—a racing heart or heart palpitations, chest tightness, numbness and tingling in your hands and feet, feeling light headed, shortness of breath, and the general feeling of fear, or that you might die right now. 

There are a number of causes of anxiety.  Traumatic events top the list.  People who have been exposed to trauma, violence, emotional duress, or threats of any kind know the source of their anxiety. This includes unrelenting stress and worry over a life event or situation that’s not easily resolved. 

The Chinese view anxiety as worry that has gotten out of control.  Each organ system is associated with an emotion, and worry is the emotion associated with the Chinese Spleen.  The Spleen is also your organ system of digestion.  It sifts and sorts what you’ve eaten, takes what is useful, turns it into nutrients to fuel your body, and gets rid of what is not needed.  While your Spleen primarily digests foods, it also plays a role in the sifting and sorting of ideas.  While the emotion associated with the Spleen is worry, it is essentially the same as not being able to sort through and let go of unnecessary ideas.  Worry is a kind of unhealthy rumination, and when it gets out of control, worry becomes anxiety and fear.

While your Spleen is the organ of digestion, your Heart is the Chinese organ of feelings.  We intuitively know that the Heart is an emotional organ.  We feel things with all our heart, have our heart broken, or thank someone from the bottom of our heart. Your Heart is home to the Shen, or your spirit, according to Chinese theory.  Its function is similar to that of your brain in Western biomedicine.  As such your Heart is the home to consciousness, memory, emotions, and thinking.  Whenever someone suffers from any kind of emotional upset or condition, such as anxiety, the Heart is always involved. 

Finally, the Chinese Kidney also plays a role in anxiety in a couple of ways.  First, the emotion related to the Kidney is fear, which is the underlying component of anxiety.  Secondly, the Kidney is the deepest and most nourishing of our organs.  It’s responsible for how well you age, your underlying body constitution, and is the source of all the fundamental substances in your body, such as Yin, Yang, and Essence.  Your Kidney is the organ system most damaged by stress and anxiety.  The Western condition of adrenal fatigue (from stress, anxiety, overwork, etc.) correlates to a severe Kidney depletion in Chinese medicine.

Chinese medicine and acupuncture can offer a number of strategies to help someone suffering from anxiety.  Your practitioner would work by first calming your Shen using acupuncture. This is an effective first line of defense, as research has documented the positive effects that acupuncture has on brain chemistry.   It has been found that acupuncture increases the secretion of endorphins in the brain, the feel good substance associated with pain relief and runner’s high. This effect accounts for the relaxing and calming sensation patients feel both during and after their treatments.

A practitioner of Chinese medicine might also address your anxiety by nourishing your Spleen and restoring your Kidney health.  Beyond acupuncture, there are a number of safe and effective herbal formulas that can help calm anxiety. Your practitioner can prescribe the combination of herbs that is most appropriate to your individual needs.

Food therapy and lifestyle changes may also be part of your treatment for anxiety.  This may include at-home calming strategies, avoiding stimulants such as coffee or tea, dietary changes, and breathing techniques—all of which can be effective in relieving anxiety.

Depression

One of the most common mood disorders we treat is depression.  For many, depression may be mild and short-lived.  For others, depression is severe, chronic, and interferes with daily activities.  Acupuncture is an effective treatment for mild, transient depression, and a good complementary treatment for people suffering from major depressive disorders.

Similar to the stagnation of energy when you’re stressed, depression is associated with the stagnation of Liver energy.  Your Liver in Chinese medicine is associated with the natural element of wood.  In this respect, the characteristics of plants and wood are also the characteristics of the Liver system in Chinese medicine.  Plants grow strongly, yet maintain their flexibility.  Without flexibility, or the ability to bend, plants will break.  Likewise, one of the key jobs of the Liver system is to govern the strong, yet smooth flow of everything in our body–energy, digestion, menses, and emotions.

When you are not flexible emotionally, Liver energy, or Liver Qi, stagnates and causes illness.  When you’re stressed or life throws you a curve ball, your ability to “go with the flow” is a huge determinant in our health–both physical and mental.  We live in a world of many wants, expectations and the idea that we can control almost everything.  However, when the things you want don’t happen, or when you try to “muscle” a situation that’s beyond your control, the potential for frustration and anger stagnates your Liver energy.  This is figuratively like leaving a basket covering the new sprouts in your garden.  Things don’t grow or flow very well.  In your garden the result is crushed and deformed plants.  In your body, the consequences can be broad–depression, accompanied by insomnia, digestive problems, and pain.

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