Managing Stress, Anxiety, and Depression With Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

Managing Stress, Anxiety, and Depression With Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

Stress, anxiety, and depression affect all of us at one point or another. But for some individuals, these issues seriously impact day-to-day life on an ongoing basis – making it hard to get work done, to get out of bed, to maintain normal relationships, or to enjoy themselves. 

In addition to the emotional burden of these syndromes, there can also be knock-on effects in other systems of our bodies. Depression may make it hard to get exercise or eat regularly. Anxiety may cause palpitations and insomnia. We’ve all heard the litany of impacts of chronic stress, including elevated blood pressure, risk of heart attack, higher rates of IBS, etc. 

In conventional medical practice, the two main lines of defense for chronic stress, anxiety, or depression are cognitive behavioral therapy and/or medications such as antidepressants or anti-anxiolytics. Both of these forms of therapy can play an important role in helping people manage their issues. 

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) takes a different approach to supporting patients who are dealing with chronic stress, depression, and or anxiety. Our approach includes diagnosing each patient holistically and creating a personalized care plan that may include acupuncture, herbal medicine and/or other nutritional supplementation, and lifestyle changes. This article lays out the approach that TCM uses to help a patient dealing with chronic stress, depression, and/or anxiety. 

How Chinese Medicine Diagnoses Stress, Anxiety, And Depression

Emotions and Organs Connected in Chinese Medicine

The terms stress, anxiety, and depression are symptomatic and diagnostic terms used in Western medicine to distinguish one set of mental health symptoms from another.  In TCM, we consider “mental health” issues – or issues of perception, mood, and emotion – to be issues of the spirit, aka the “Shen”. This can extend to someone’s affect, their level of connection with those around them, and their reported emotions. 

From a TCM perspective, we consider each emotion to be processed by a different organ system in the body. What this means is that if a patient is experiencing an emotional response that is mismatched to a situation, that disjointed response may injure the relevant organ if it persists over time, or it may indicate that the relevant organ is out of balance in some way. Either way, it gives us a starting point for diagnosis and treatment. Here are the basic organs and their associated emotions from a TCM perspective:

  • Heart: joy, elation 
  • Spleen: overthinking, rumination
  • Lung: grief, sadness
  • Kidney: fear
  • Liver: anger, irritability

For any patient that walks through our door, we consider their Shen as we make our diagnosis. And for any patient that walks through our door, we also consider their physical symptoms and physical function as we make our diagnosis. Thus, as we consider a TCM diagnosis for a patient complaining of anxiety, for example, we don’t only work from a Shen and emotional perspective, we also want to understand how their digestive system is working, whether they’re able to sleep, whether they are experiencing palpitations or low back pain, etc. 

Both the Shen issues and the physical issues are considered in concert as we make a unique diagnosis for each patient. So, not every patient complaining of “anxiety” will be treated the same way – instead, we understand their case as unique and put together a diagnosis and plan that is personalized to their specific case. 

How Acupuncture Can Help

acupuncture for stress management

As with any patient who walks through our door, we use acupuncture to create energetic balance based on our diagnosis. Likewise, with issues of chronic stress, anxiety, and/or depression, we are using needles to address whatever imbalance lies at the root of the issue. In particular, we may use needles around the scalp, forehead, chest, or ears to support the Shen. 

Of course, patients are often curious to understand how acupuncture supports these efforts from a biomedical perspective. While research is still underway to understand the exact mechanisms, a few effects on emotional well-being that acupuncture has been shown to have been to regulate cortisol (stress & energy hormone), increase endorphins (pain and enjoyment neurotransmitters), and increase oxytocin (love and anti-stress hormone). 

Beyond this research-based understanding of the effects of acupuncture, from a TCM perspective, we’re always looking to identify and treat the underlying pattern energetically. Do we need to move stuck irritability in your Liver? In that case, we might put needles in your feet, legs, or belly. Or do we need to nourish your Heart to make more space for joy? The needles might go into your chest or your wrists. 

Usually, patients will get up from their treatment feeling more of a sense of peace and balance. We expect that benefit to compound over time as the treatments start to take hold on a deeper level. 

Additional Ways That Chinese Medicine Can Address Emotional Wellbeing

chinese medicine for emotional wellbeing

Acupuncture is just one of the tools in the belt of the TCM practitioner. When working with patients in the clinic, the practitioner may also use moxibustion, gua sha, cupping, ear seeds, or herbal medicine. Each of these tools can be used in certain ways to influence a patient’s emotional well-being and mood. 

However, TCM is not practiced solely by having the practitioner use tools on the patient. A crucial part of medicine is enabling patients to make changes in their day-to-day lives to help address their emotional well-being. Lifestyle recommendations might encourage patients to improve their sleeping habits, increase exercise, and practice mindfulness or breathing exercises to help with their mood. And poor diet can be a huge contributor to mood – through the connection between the brain and the gut, through inflammatory processes, and through blood sugar regulation – so dietary recommendations are always emphasized for patients. 

Combining Acupuncture and Conventional Medical Approaches

When it comes to managing depression, integrating acupuncture with conventional medical approaches can offer significant benefits. By complementing prescribed depression medication with acupuncture, individuals can experience a holistic and comprehensive treatment plan that cares for their overall well-being.

A. The potential benefits of integrating acupuncture alongside conventional depression medication

Acupuncture has the power to enhance the effectiveness of conventional depression medication by addressing underlying imbalances and promoting overall wellness. Research shows that acupuncture positively impacts neurotransmitter levels, including serotonin and dopamine, which are closely related to mood regulation. By stimulating specific acupuncture points, we activate the body’s natural healing mechanisms, leading to improved mental and emotional well-being.

depression treatment

Not only does acupuncture enhance mood, but it can also help alleviate common side effects of depression medication, such as nausea, insomnia, and fatigue. This integrative approach creates a more well-rounded treatment experience, improving both the efficacy and tolerability of conventional medication.

B. Important considerations when discussing acupuncture with medical practitioners

When considering acupuncture as a complementary treatment for depression, it is essential to have open and honest communication with your medical practitioners. Share your interest in exploring acupuncture and discuss any concerns or potential interactions with your prescribed medication. Your medical team will provide valuable insights, make necessary adjustments, and offer guidance for an integrated treatment approach. Remember, acupuncture should never replace conventional medical treatment for depression but should be seen as a valuable addition to your overall plan, working hand in hand with medication and other therapeutic interventions. By fostering open communication and collaboration between your healthcare providers, we can ensure a comprehensive and supportive approach to managing your depression.

What Would Care at Flourish Look Like for Anxiety, Depression or Stress

The first step at Flourish is to do a comprehensive health history intake with one of our TCM practitioners. During that long conversation, we would dig into understanding exactly how anxiety, depression, or stress expresses itself in your body and in your life. You would receive your first acupuncture treatment – after which we’d expect you to get up off the table feeling relaxed and peaceful. The practitioner would deliver you a personalized wellness plan outlining the plan for care with Flourish and making dietary, lifestyle, and herbal / supplement recommendations for you to incorporate into your day-to-day life. 

Patients often come in weekly or every other week to address anxiety, depression, or stress. Follow-up appointments would include, in addition to acupuncture, a check-in on how you’re feeling and whether you need support in incorporating the suggestions made in the wellness plan. We adjust your acupuncture, herbal medicine, and wellness plan over time as we see improvement starting to occur. 

Our goal is to support you energetically to get to the point where you have created healthy habits to be able to sustain your own emotional well-being without being reliant upon coming in for acupuncture.

Client Testimonials

I have gotten acupuncture for almost a year with Stephanie. She is intelligent, proficient, skillful, and open minded. Her ability to make a patient feel heard and at ease is second to none. She is professional at what she does and is easy to work with. Acupuncture has changed my life and helped in may areas including mental clarity, decreasing stress and overall health and wellness. The office is clean and welcoming and the privacy and one on one care is exceptional. My sister in law even started getting acupuncture at Flourish recently and has nothing but good things to say! Five stars! I recommend giving Flourish a try and you will not regret it.

Pernille Luzaich

I’ve seen Vladi for over 5 years now and am so grateful for having found her! She has helped improve the physical, emotional and spiritual parts of my well-being and supported me through many different stages of my life. I highly recommend acupuncture, but especially Flourish, to any of my friends and family looking for a bit of support!

Taylor Abudi

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If anxiety, depression, or chronic stress is showing up as a challenge in your life, acupuncture, and TCM may be a good place to look for care. By weaving together acupuncture with herbal medicine, lifestyle changes, and dietary recommendations, TCM practitioners take a comprehensive approach to supporting patients looking to improve their emotional well-being. 

If you’re interested in care with Flourish, you can book an appointment online, book a free 15-minute consultation with one of our licensed practitioners, or click here to learn more.