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Acupuncture is the natural anxiety remedy you might want to try

When you’re stressed about everything from your workload to politics to why your jeans suddenly feel so tight, you’d think having a bunch of needles jammed into your skin would be the last thing to help you feel better. But acupuncture has anecdotal and scientific evidence backing up its powers.

For thousands of years, this Chinese practice has helped alleviate a host of physical and mental conditions, and modern medicine has warmed up to the idea that anxiety might be one of them. Here’s what we know (so far) about acupuncture to treat anxiety symptoms, and what you can expect if you try it.


How acupuncture for anxiety works

If you go for an acupuncture treatment, you’ll give a thorough medical history to your practitioner. Then, you’ll relax on a comfortable table, face up or down, while very fine needles—about the width of a hair—are carefully inserted under the surface of your skin.


But the needles don’t just go in random places along with your anatomy. They need to be inserted into very specific locations based on your physical or mental symptoms. Points for anxiety may include your breastbone, between your eyebrows, or the insides of your wrists.


The reason for these placements? According to Chinese medicine, energy, or “qi,” flows up and down pathways in the body. Sometimes the energy is blocked, deficient, excessive, or unbalanced. This puts the body out of balance and in turn, causes illness. Acupuncture restores homeostasis and encourages healing.


As a part of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture uses a “whole system” approach to health. We don’t separate the physical and mental aspects [of a patient], as they’re both intimately tied together.


Here’s an example. Tell your acupuncturist you’re feeling anxious and also waking up sweaty in the middle of the night, and she won’t think you’re complaining about two totally different issues. You just described symptoms of one of the most common explanations for anxiety in Chinese medicine: “yin deficiency.”


If that sounds too far out there for you, there is a more Western answer for how acupuncture can work its magic. “Acupuncture eases anxiety by regulating the nervous system, specifically by bringing the branches of the autonomic nervous system back into balance.”


When you’re anxious, your sympathetic nervous system—the one that controls your “fight or flight” system—takes over, whereas your parasympathetic (“rest and digest” system) is stifled. This explains why your heart hammers in your chest and you can feel short of breath as anxiety takes hold of you.


Acupuncture treatment helps shift the body back into a relaxed state where the sympathetic system is more balanced and no longer dominating.

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