By Ashley Teague, MSOM, L. Ac
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Managing anxiety can be a difficult thing. Not only are the symptoms sometimes debilitating and life altering, but the common treatments for anxiety can take many months to take effect in the body. Many times these therapies include prescription medications that simply put a Band-Aid over the symptoms and do not reach the root cause of the problem. In addition, prescription medications often cause other unwanted side effects while covering up the problem.

An alternative and often times very effective therapy to treat anxiety is acupuncture. Symptoms often lessen over the first few visits and can be maintained for a long period of time. Chinese herbal therapies are often used to support the acupuncture treatments at home to create a more lasting effect between treatments.

 People who suffer from anxiety often have hypersensitive sympathetic nervous systems, or “fight or flight” responses. The sympathetic nervous response or the “fight or flight” response is a defense mechanism for the body. A long time ago, when humans were “hunters and gatherers,” they were confronted with dangers such as wild animals and humans needed this response to have the energy and instinct to remove themselves from danger. After the danger was removed, the body would deactivate this nervous response and be at ease again.

In today’s day and age, we are not confronted with the same type of dangers – most of the time we are confronted with dangers that are more psychological in nature than physical. Many of these “dangers” can be confronted immediately allowing our “fight or flight” response to be deactivated and allow us to feel at ease again.

People with anxiety suffer from an over active sympathetic nervous system, meaning it activates without any or much provocation from the environment. In addition, the response does not switch off causing a continued sensation of nervousness and fear.

So how does acupuncture work for anxiety? Acupuncture helps to regulate the body’s metabolic function. It causes the nervous system to release “happy chemicals” called endorphins. Endorphins help to reduce pain and help to create a sense of euphoria in the body. Acupuncture also stimulates a parasympathetic response, which is the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system – it allows the body to “rest and digest.” Acupuncture also helps to stimulate the immune system in order to help the body begin to heal itself. This even includes the stimulation of the part of the brain that controls emotions, as well decreasing the production of stress hormones.

Why does it work? Acupuncture treatment helps balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic responses so that circumstances that occur which are out of our control will be less debilitating.

Acupuncture is a great therapy for anxiety and can be used in conjunction with other holistic strategies including yoga, breathing techniques and meditation. Unlike prescription medications, these holistic methods of treatment have no associated risks, only benefit.