The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) and the charity Anxiety UK (AUK) are working together to promote awareness about and access to acupuncture for mental wellbeing. .
One of the most frequent comments I hear after new clients experience acupuncture for the first time is ‘I never expected it to be so relaxing!’. This is because one of the ways acupuncture works is through communication with our autonomic nervous system, it calms our sympathetic (fight or flight) system and stimulates our parasympathetic (rest and restore) function.
In daily living our fight or flight stress response should switch on and off when necessary, but sometimes pressures build up (at work, studying, in relationships, with family or finances) causing our flight or fight reaction to become excessive and inappropriate, setting a chain reaction in motion – excessive adrenalin production causing symptoms such as nausea, sweating, raised blood pressure and palpitations. The stress then takes over resulting in anxiety which can be made worse by worry about the physical symptoms. This ongoing state of ‘red alert’ puts a strain on the mind and body and if it continues can lead to problems such as chronic anxiety, insomnia, generalised physical and mental tension, irritability, fatigue and depression.
Acupuncture can be very effective in breaking this cycle, enabling the parasympathetic system to turn off the stress reaction, restoring balance and facilitating a return to peacefulness again. Often this in itself is sufficient to restore mental and emotional wellbeing, but sometimes additional treatment such as psychotherapy or medication may be required to fully address complex and long standing issues, if this is the case acupuncture can provide valuable support and work in conjunction with other therapeutic interventions.
There is still much to explore around the use of acupuncture in mental health care, but findings from studies so far undertaken are exciting and encouraging, there is good evidence for its effectiveness in specific acute anxiety situations such as around medical or dentistry procedures. There are also positive preliminary findings for the use of acupuncture treating chronic anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, and anxiety and depression secondary to chronic pain conditions. More details of this research can be found on the British Acupuncture Council website.