Acupuncture and Natural Treatment 
Options for Anxiety

By Amie Brooke, L. Ac, MSOM
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in Marin
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in San Francisco

An estimated 38 million Americans suffer from chronic anxiety or depression. One out of eight adults are currently taking antidepressant medications. While these medications can offer support and benefit during certain circumstances, there are many people that do not respond well to drug treatment alone. This can be due to a number of factors including:

  • Unpleasant side effects that outweigh the benefits of the medication
  • A developed tolerance to the medication that causes benefits to diminish
  • Excessive sensitivity to the concentrated, chemical nature of these medications
  • Anxiety not due to a biochemical imbalance, but the result of a deeper spiritual issue

In my clinical practice, I have worked with a number of patients who were convinced that they had run out of options after finding medications and/or talk therapy to be ineffective for their needs. Many of these people try acupuncture as a last resort. From my experience working with numerous anxiety-ridden patients, I now firmly believe that Chinese medicine, nutritional supplementation, meditation, and yoga can offer tremendously helpful support in healing the root causes of this epidemic. This approach is much more comprehensive and much less invasive to the brain than using SSRI medications. It accounts for not only biochemical factors, but also energetic, nutritional, and spiritual influences as well.

Acupuncture

Practiced for over 2,500 years, acupuncture is a branch of Chinese medicine that treats the energetic level of the human body and mind. As surprising as it is to most people, acupuncture is usually a profoundly relaxing experience that establishes a deep quality of restoration and balance to the central nervous system. Most people feel altered, dreamy, or sleepy after treatment. This feeling tends to stick around for a few hours after the treatment and becomes a more continuous experience with repetitive treatment. Acupuncture works by balancing the flow of Qi, or internal life force, in the body. Anxiety is typically a byproduct of weak Qi in the heart or kidneys, according to Chinese medical theory. Other symptoms such as low back pain, heart palpitations, insomnia, irritability, or nightmares commonly accompany anxiety.

Chinese Herbs

There are a number of Chinese herbal formulas that can work wonders for anxiety disorders. Each individual will present with unique symptoms, so your acupuncturist will help you find a formula that is right for your constitution. Many Western herbs like chamomile, valerian, passion flower and kava can also be helpful.

Nutrition

One of the most important nutritional considerations with anxiety is to maintain stable blood sugar throughout the day. The majority of anxiety patients suffer from hypoglycemia. They tend to eat refined carbohydrates and/or drink coffee to start the day, only to experience the typical 'crash' around 2-4pm. To keep the blood sugar stable, begin the day with a high protein breakfast such as eggs, turkey bacon, whole oats, or smoothies with whey or goat protein in them. Eat a low glycemic snack every 2-3 hours. Avoid coffee and other forms of caffeine. It can also be revealing to avoid allergenic foods such as wheat, gluten, pasteurized dairy, and refined sugar for one month to see if the anxiety significantly improves.

Nutritional supplements like 5HTP, GABA, fish oils and Vitamin B complex can also be very helpful and minerals like Calcium, Iron and Magnesium in the proper doses can provide support.

Meditation and Yoga

Many people find meditation and yoga to be their most powerful allies in healing anxiety. With regular practice of various breathing techniques and yoga postures, people gain more control over their anxiety and understand it doesn’t have to run their life anymore. These practices can be direct gateways to the rest and restore mode of the nervous system. On a deeper level, they can help us forge a spiritual connection with our lives that instills an unshakable sense of trust and safety in the workings of the universe. 

From a holistic perspective, our symptoms are never random. There is always a reason why they creep up. In the case of anxiety, it is helpful to disengage from our personal feelings about it and look at the bigger picture. What is the anxiety telling us about ourselves? Is it a warning sign that something is amiss and needs to be acknowledged or changed? The practices mentioned here can offer a profound level of support in getting to the root of the problem and inducing a gentle course in a new direction of calmness and insight. 

Amie Brooke, MSOM is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist and holistic nutritional therapist. She can be reached at (415)322-3134.