Acupuncture for stress and anxiety

Symptoms of anxiety affect over 40 million Americans a year, with many finding relief through prescription medication and talk therapy.

Learn more about stress and anxiety.

Symptoms of anxiety include restlessness, rapid heartbeat, upset stomach, difficulty concentrating, headache, irritability, sleeplessness, fatigue, sweating, and muscle tension. It’s been said that nearly 30% of the world’s population will suffer from symptoms of anxiety at least once in their lifetime, regardless of their gender, age, or stage of life. It’s no wonder then that a Google search for anxiety treatments results in 415,000,000 web pages.

But some are turning to an ancient Eastern practice called acupuncture, which involves the insertion of needles into pressure points throughout the body. It works by assisting the nervous system achieve balance, alleviating stress and anxiety symptoms. It’s been reported that acupuncture can give individual rapid results, often working within only one to two sessions. However, like any treatment, results and the number of sessions will vary from person to person.  

Shin’s story

When Shin, a 28-year-old accountant of Chinese ancestry, admitted to feeling mounting symptoms of anxiety to her grandmother, she was encouraged to try acupuncture. Her family had been loyal patients of the practice for everything from bowel problems to knee pain, but she never considered acupuncture for stress or anxiety as a legitimate treatment. She wasn’t exactly an eager participant – or even a believer - at first.

“Even though I knew my parents and aunts and uncles believed in acupuncture, I’d never gotten a treatment myself,” admits Shin. “I didn’t know what to expect.

“I figured it would be some placebo thing, or some crazy unhygienic thing with no science behind it.”

While every acupuncture clinic will differ in style, size and operation protocol, Shin shares that the clinic she attended was small, bright and clean. Located in the back of a medical center, “it looked like a cross between a doctor’s office and a medical spa,” she comments. “It was sterile, but warm at the same time.”

Shin was put immediately at ease when she recognized how thorough the acupuncturist, Jun, was in researching her background and healthy history.

If someone you love is dealing with anxiety, read more about how to help them cope.

“It felt less like this mysterious, ancient practice where I might be asked to put my faith in voodoo,” says Shin, “and more like an authentic procedure, which, as it turns out, is exactly what acupuncture is.”

Jun asked Shin about her history with anxiety, as well as her diet, exercise regimen and even her personality – her likes, dislikes, and her phobias. Shin treated it like a talk therapy session, telling Jun about her struggles at work and in her personal relationships. Jun told her that many people were hesitant to share about anxiety; her willingness to share was actually leaving her more open to healing.

“(Jun) explained that when you have an open mind, your body is calmer.”

After the interview, Shin was led to a small room with a bed that resembled a massage table, with a thin pillow at the head. She was asked to breathe in and out, consciously and slowly. She was encouraged to relax while Jun went to work inserting a dozen long, thin needles into various pressure points on Shin’s body, starting from the crown of her head down to her ankles.
“I don’t like bees, I don’t like needles, I have a very low threshold of pain,” says Shin. “I felt absolutely nothing. I mean, I knew something was there, but it wasn’t painful.”

Jun left Shin to relax for about half an hour. When she returned to remove the needles, Shin says she felt tranquil, calm and rested.

“I didn’t feel like, ‘Whoa, that was life changing!’ after the first session,” says Shin. “But I have to admit I slept so well that night.

“But after the second session, that week really did feel different… things were more tolerable somehow.

“I went for two more sessions, so all in all I went once a week for a month. I think for anyone thinking of acupuncture, I have to say you can’t go into it thinking that after half an hour everything is going to be different. But what’s interesting is that it does change, gradually. It may not be noticeable at first. But when something happens that you typically have a panic attack over, and you don’t… well, I’ve discovered that acupuncture has a hand in that.”

Today, Shin says she makes an appointment once every six to eight weeks for maintenance.

How does acupuncture for stress and anxiety work?

In ancient Chinese medicine, an energy called Qi (or the chemical reactions that constantly fire throughout our bodies)  is said to regulate the overall health of the body, moving through pathways called meridians.  If Qi’s flow is disturbed or blocked in any way (for example due to injury, poor eating habits/nutrition, stress, or any other discomfort), that’s when we begin to suffer. The practice of acupuncture – the insertion of needles in specific points throughout the body – is the acupuncturist’s way of restoring Qi’s balance, therefore promoting better health and getting relief for the patient.

Needles are inserted half a millimeter away from nerves; there, they go to work. In addition to regulating those joy-making neurostransmitters in your brain, and decrease the markers of stress and lower blood pressure (which assists in overall anxiety treatment) they also do the following:

- Alleviate migraines or other headaches
- Decrease the severity of hot flashes in women going through menopause
- Alleviate seasonal allergy symptoms
- Treat acid reflux disease
- Soothe heartburn by regulating acid secretion and aiding digestion
- Boost the immune system
- Relieve lower back pain for up to six months
- Help obesity sufferers lose up to 10 lbs. over two weeks to four months
Overall, acupuncturists have been helping people feel more balanced for thousands of years. In the Western world, acupuncture has been growing in popularity because of the research that has been released that supports its efficacy and success rate, especially for anxiety and other mental illnesses.

A study at Georgetown University unveiled that acupuncture actually slows the body’s production of stress hormones, and that acupuncture has a protective effect against the body’s response to stress. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reported that the evidence for the use of acupuncture to treat anxiety disorders is getting stronger. The University of York reported benefits from acupuncture lasting three months after the conclusion of treatment. Thanks to all of this clinical evidence, many more people are trusting acupuncture for anxiety treatment – and getting impressive, lasting results.

Exercise is also a great way to manage your stress and anxiety.

Are there risks or side effects to acupuncture for anxiety?

Antidepressant medications come with a list of potential side effects, and acupuncture too doesn’t come without risk. However, unlike some antidepressants which may make your anxiety worse, acupuncture will not.

The most common side effect of acupuncture is soreness at the needle site, immediately following the end of session. While most report feeling a pressure, some do feel the prick of the needle, although if inserted properly, should be mild. Bruising is another side effect, especially if you’re prone.

If you have any of the following conditions, see a doctor before visiting an acupuncturist:

- Bleeding disorders (or if you use anticoagulants)
- Immune disorders
- Metal allergies
- Skin disorders or infections
- Valvular heart disease

If you have a pacemaker, do not visit an acupuncturist who uses electric stimulation.

Is acupuncture for anxiety safe?

Acupuncture is considered a safe procedure. In 2001, the British Medical Journal gathered 34,000 treatment reports over one month and released that no serious problems were found. Another study revealed that only 671 minor issues were reported (including minor bleeding or pain at the needle site) in over 10,000 acupuncture treatments.

Acupuncture for anxiety is safe and trusted, but if you are suffering from moderate to severe depression, it’s best that you continue to see a medical or mental health professional before starting acupuncture. If you are currently in talk therapy and/or taking prescription medication to alleviate your symptoms of anxiety, it’s also beneficial that you seek the advice of your doctor before reducing or stopping your current treatment plan.

How often should you come in for acupuncture for anxiety treatments?

Because everyone’s symptoms and situations are different, your treatment plan won’t look like anyone else’s. It will depend on you and whether you require acute, transitional or maintenance care.

 Acute here is for if you’ve suffered an injury recently, or if you’re having an acute flare-up of a condition you previously had that’s been in remission for a while. Acute care is generally more aggressive, meaning you should expect to come in once or twice a week for the first two weeks. While it’s common to feel relief in as few as one to two sessions, it doesn’t mean that all of your symptoms are guaranteed to go away this quickly.

Transitional care is when you’ve achieved comfort, but you find that your symptoms are coming back. That means you need to come in just before you start getting uncomfortable again.
Before long, you’ll find yourself in the maintenance phase. This is when you come in every eight weeks to three months to keep up your health and keep your symptoms at bay.

If you have questions about acupuncture for anxiety, visit and talk to one of our caring and knowledgeable staff members.

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