Acupuncture and Stress Reduction

Chances are you may relate to the photograph above. I certainly have at different times throughout my life. However, I have felt so much better overall since I discovered the power of acupuncture. Stress is just one of the many benefits acupuncture and herbal medicine has to offer the body, and it is one of the most common conditions I treat in my practice. While everyone experiences stressors in their lives to some degree, diagnoses of anxiety and depression as a result of chronic stress increased by 25% globally since 2020. For many people, the psychological impact of the covid-19 pandemic still persists and lingers. In this blog, we will explore how acupuncture significantly aids in stress reduction and its associated diseases by balancing several neuropsychological mechanisms.

 

Symptoms of Stress

Stress affects nearly every single one of the body’s systems. This means that stress manifests in several ways in a person’s health and constitution, and it can vary depending on the individual. According to the Cleveland Clinic, some physical symptoms include body aches, chest pain, heart palpitations, fatigue, insomnia, high blood pressure, skin rashes, muscle tension, digestive disturbances, sexual dysfunction, and a weakened immune system. In addition, the psychological impacts of stress can lead to feelings of overwhelm, irritability, anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. When left untreated, stress can become a chronic health problem, and may lead to destructive coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, disordered eating, or other compulsive habits which may be harmful to one’s health.

 

How Acupuncture Alleviates Stress

There are several mechanisms at play in the body when receiving an acupuncture treatment that promote the healing response. Specifically when it comes to stress, acupuncture releases endorphins (feel good hormones), increases blood circulation, and balances the body’s life force energy (qi), all of which also alleviate pain.

Over the years, I have seen significant stress reduction in many of my patients. Here is one testimonial from Bonnie that demonstrates these positive results:

“Life is hectic and stress can easily take over my life. When I started seeing Danielle for acupuncture and herbal medicine regularly, I was able to deal with that stress a lot more efficiently. My sleep, mood, and overall sense of well-being improved to the point of my family even noticing! I’m so grateful for her treatments and I can’t recommend her enough.”

It is also quite common that patients seek treatment for a condition completely unrelated to stress, such as low back pain or autoimmune disease, yet will still experience a drastic reduction in stress as a result of receiving acupuncture treatments regularly.

 

Fight or Flight and Acupuncture

While stress affects all bodily systems, it primarily impacts the autonomic nervous system, which controls heart rate, breathing, and other bodily functions. The sympathetic portion of that nervous system is also known as the fight or flight response. Research has discovered that acupuncture additionally propels the body out of the sympathetic nervous system response  and into the parasympathetic response, which governs rest and relaxation. After receiving acupuncture overtime, the nervous system becomes more elastic in its response to stress. This means that acupuncture doesn’t just relieve stress, anxiety, and depression in the moment, it also strengthens the individual’s ability to cope with stressors in the future. This makes acupuncture a long term and proactive solution for many mental health conditions.

 

Serotonin and Oxytocin

According to a study from the Marmara Pharmaceutical Journal, acupuncture increases the output of certain chemicals, including serotonin and oxytocin, in the central nervous system and plasma. These two hormones in particular help to regulate sleep, appetite, digestion, mood and memory. The release of these neurotransmitters produces overall positive feelings in the body and brain, and encourages systemic relaxation.

 

Cortisol and Acupuncture

Another major player in stress management is cortisol. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone that is made in the adrenal glands. Too much cortisol release can happen in times of high stress, and it may cause insomnia, mood swings, weight gain, and brain fog. Acupuncture, specifically auricular therapy on the ears, has also been shown to reduce cortisol levels in the body by improving the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis function. The HPA axis is a neuroendocrine system that regulates the stress response, which modulates the secretion of cortisol. The more acupuncture a person receives, the more responsive, adaptive and regenerative this specific neurological pathway becomes.

 

Additional Stress Support

I often tell my patients that while acupuncture is extremely helpful for stress and its associated symptoms, it is important that they have additional tools and resources. Some of these include cognitive behavior therapy, meditation and breathing techniques, exercise, connecting within a community, and a faith or gratitude based practice. For some patients, I may also prescribe herbal medicine to rebalance the body and mind. In general, patients who are on a regular acupuncture protocol will see me anywhere from once a week to once a month depending on the severity of their condition. At first, more treatments is always advisable to reinforce the body’s healing response. You can read about what to expect during an acupuncture treatment in my previous blog.

If you or a loved one are experiencing debilitating and uncontrollable symptoms of stress, please reach out to your medical provider. Remember, although we are all unique individuals, no one experiences stress in isolation. You are not alone, and there are many resources, like acupuncture, to support you in your healing journey.

For more information or to book an acupuncture appointment, please visit my website or my NH Health & Wellness Center page.

 

Danielle Gaglini Hallowell, L.Ac., MAOM., Dipl.OM. is a New Hampshire and Maine licensed acupuncturist and herbalist who practices at the NH Health & Wellness Center in Nashua, NH. Her integrative treatment style incorporates various eastern, orthopedic and esoteric healing modalities to address disharmonies in the physical and energetic body. To schedule a session or for more information, email danielle@acupuncturenewengland.com or call 978-272-2402. If your health insurance covers out-of-network acupuncture, you may be reimbursed for your appointments.

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