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Acupuncture, Anxiety & Sleep

Emotions, according to traditional Chinese Medicine (tCM), affect our energy or Qi:


"Anger causes energy to rise, joy causes energy to slow down, grief causes energy to descend, fright causes energy to scatter, exhaustion causes energy to wither, worry causes energy to stagnate." The Yellow Emperor 1

It's completely normal to feel emotions, it's part of being alive.  It's when we get stuck in an emotional state or we repress emotions that they are harmful.


Chronic anxiety and habitual worrying about what may happen in the future depletes the body, mind and spirit.  Mental health is a cornerstone of good overall health (sleep, exercise and diet the others) it's important that we explore ways to help anxiety, including non-allopathic ones like acupuncture.

How Acupuncture may Help

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese Medicine (tCM) technique  I summarise some key aspects of tCM medical theory on my acupressure page and more information about acupuncture here


As anxiety is a common underlying pattern in sleep disorders much of the advice on this page mirrors that of Acupressure & Insomnia. As with sleep disorders your experience of anxiety is unique.  TCM interprets anxiety as imbalance.  The acu-points selected for your acupuncture treatment depend on the type of your anxiety, when it started, triggers and the key lifestyle factors - emotions, diet and exercise.

From a tCM perspective there are a number of patterns which explain anxiety.  There are too many for me to list but a common theme is a turbulent mind or Shen.  Whatever and whenever the cause, activities which help develop mental resilience and stability, such as yoga, mindfulness, CBT, acupressure have a role to play in anchoring the Shen.


A tCM acupuncturist like me will identify your pattern/s of disharmony through careful questioning and observation and make a diagnosis.  

During pregnancy and childbirth midwife and acupuncturist Debra Betts recommends wearing a travel band over KID 1 to settle anxiety during childbirth.  More details here.  You can also download her free booklet on Natural Pain Relief Techniques for Childbirth.

Anxiety UK are currently running a pilot project with the British Acupuncture Council to, "monitor the effectiveness of traditional acupuncture for treating those living with anxiety, stress and anxiety based depression. This will enable both parties to continue to build a body of evidence to measure the success rate of this type of treatment.

We know anecdotally that many people find complementary therapies used to support conventional care can provide enormous benefit, although it should be remembered they are used in addition to and not instead of seeking medical advice from a doctor or taking prescribed medication."2

Biomedical Interpretation of how acupuncture may help anxiety (visit here for biomedical view of acupuncture & insomnia)

This information is a direct quotation from the British Acupuncture Council's research factsheet, Acupuncture and Anxiety, November 2014.


"Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically benefit anxiety disorders and symptoms of anxiety by:

  • Acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the 'analytical' brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry (Hui 2010).

  • Regulating levels of neurotransmitters (or their modulators) and hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA, neuropeptide Y and ACTH; hence altering the brain's mood chemistry to help to combat negative affective states (Lee 2009; Samuels 2008; Zhou 2008; Yuan 2007).

  • Stimulating production of endogenous opioids that affect the autonomic nervous system  (Arranz 2007). Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, while acupuncture can activate the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the relaxation response.

  • Reversing pathological changes in levels of inflammatory cytokines that are associated with anxiety (Arranz 2007)

  • Reversing stress-induced changes in behaviour and biochemistry (Kim 2009).

Acupuncture can be safely combined with conventional treatments such as medication or psycho-educational therapy, possibly enhancing their beneficial effects (Courbasson 2007) and reducing unwanted side-effects (Yuan 2007)"

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