How Can Acupuncture Help Anxiety Symptoms?

Although still considered a form of quackery by some in the medical field, anyone who's experienced physical pain and sought out acupuncture for it already knows that the results can be amazing. The Chinese have been practicing acupuncture for thousands of years for all types of ailments, and, fortunately for Westerners, it eventually made its way across the seas — and now everyone gets to reap the practice's benefits.

Acupuncture stimulates the points of the body that are connected to the central nervous system. In doing so, feel-good chemicals are released to help with pain (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). But the best part about acupuncture is that it's not only known to ease physical pain but also mental pain.

"Acupuncture stimulates the body's natural feel-good hormones and reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol," Mathew Kulas, M.A., an acupuncturist, tells Henry Ford Health. "Often with anxiety, thoughts can become chaotic and there's a certain level of fear about the future. Sometimes just knowing you're doing something productive — whether getting an acupuncture treatment, exercising, or practicing self-massage — can help reduce worries about things that fall outside of your control."

But that's just the beginning of how acupuncture can help with anxiety.

How acupuncture works

Considering 6.8 million Americans suffer from general anxiety disorder (GAD) and only 43.2% seek treatment for it, highlighting the many options out there to help should be front and center (via the Anxiety & Depression Association of America). Not everyone wants to — or can — take pills, and some people don't want an hour-long therapy session once a week to manage their anxiety symptoms.

When you receive acupuncture, small needles are placed along the body at points where it's believed there is a blockage (via Verywell Mind). Although the needles can vary in thickness and length, they don't hurt. Because anxiety can be the result of internal and external forces that throw the body's Qi for a loop, acupuncture brings it back to a state of balance again (via Everyday Health). Therefore, acupuncture works to control the fight-or-flight feelings that people experience, by promoting the parasympathetic zone, which is also known as "rest and digest."

"While in the rest and digest mode, acupuncture appears to help regulate neurotransmitter levels, like serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and anandamide," Dr. Tom Ingegno, doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, tells The Zoe Report. "This symphony of neurotransmitters controls our body's response to stress, and mediates levels of anxiety and depression. In this way, acupuncture 'hits the reset button' to allow these levels to balance. They will breathe slower and deeper, they will feel muscles relax, feel their stomach rumble, and they may even feel their heart rate slow — and often fall asleep." Ultimately, Dr. Ingegno says, "It's as if acupuncture reminds someone what 'relaxed' feels like, which they can then take home with them."

Being able to take home such levels of blissful relaxation may sound amazing — because it is — but acupuncture isn't a flawless technique that everyone enjoys.

What to expect when getting acupuncture

Although research has found that acupuncture can be extremely effective for physical and mental health issues, this doesn't mean it's for everyone (via Penn Medicine News). For example, anyone who has a fear of needles should absolutely skip acupuncture because it doesn't matter how small those needles are; that right there can be anxiety-inducing for someone who fears them. It also doesn't necessarily work for everyone. If you're someone who's dead set against acupuncture and go in to have a session, the fact that you're so closed off is going to keep you from experiencing the benefits of the practice.

You also can't just get one round of treatment and be done. Depending on what you're being treated for, acupuncture sessions may need to be a couple of times a week for months (via Medical News Daily). Some people get acupuncture for the duration of their lives to not only fight off the issues that are plaguing them but also as a means of maintenance.

What it comes down to is that acupuncture is a great option for controlling anxiety symptoms for some people, while others simply don't benefit from it. It's similar to medication in that way. Just because the meds you're taking for your anxiety disorder do wonders for you doesn't mean someone else with the same issues will benefit in the same way. When it comes to any type of mental health disorder, it's about trying different options or combinations of options until you find the one that works best. Anxiety can be debilitating, and no one should have to live that way when there are so many forms of treatment that can help.