How effective is acupuncture for stress relief? And does it treat depression or relieve stress and anxiety at all?
Acupuncture is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine that’s been around for thousands of years. The whole process involves inserting sterile needles into the patient’s skin.
People who experience acupuncture treatments often feel relief and relaxation starting after the insertion of the first needle.
Acupuncture as an alternative medicine may not be so alternative after all. More and more research now shows the efficacy of acupuncture. The results show that acupuncture does in fact have a positive effect on people with depression, stress and anxiety.
The Dangers of Chronic Stress and How Acupuncture Can Turn Things Around
Stress is just a normal reaction of your body from the pressures or demands brought by good or bad experiences. It’s your body’s way of coping with the challenges of life.
While your body’s short term reaction to stress is often a healthy response and not a cause for concern, it’s the long-term or ongoing stress that you shouldn’t overlook.
Chronic stress can lead to more serious health problems which include:
- Personality disorders, anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems
- Heart attacks, stroke, abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, heart disease and cardiovascular disease
- Hair and skin problems such as permanent hair loss, eczema, psoriasis and acne
- Sexual dysfunction such as loss of sexual desire in both sexes; premature ejaculation and impotence in men
- Menstrual problems
- Eating disorders
- Obesity, weight gain
All the symptoms listed above are connected or linked to your body’s central nervous system.
Your body’s Autonomic Nervous System or ANS controls your bodily functions such as breathing, digestion and heartbeat.
The Autonomic Nervous System consists of two main divisions:
- SNS or Sympathetic Nervous System and
- PNS or Parasympathetic Nervous System
The Sympathetic Nervous System or Fight-or-Flight Response
Your body triggers the Sympathetic Nervous System when you’re under stress. This means your mind and body is getting ready for a confrontation.
Similarly, this is how your mind and body react during an emergency.
Chronic stress often starts when we react to an ongoing pressure or threat, and we’re locked into it.
Most of the threats encountered by many professionals and students aren’t actual physical harm but they are mental and emotional in nature.
Long-term or chronic stress has a negative effect on your brain. Your reproductive systems, digestive systems, cardiovascular systems, respiratory system and hormonal systems can also suffer damage.
Chronic stress can often lead to all the serious health problems listed earlier.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System or the rest-and-digest response
Patients who have chronic digestive problems report a notable decrease in stress levels when on vacation. This is due to the body’s role in balancing the fight-or-flight response.
Your body’s Parasympathetic Nervous System triggers your rest-and-digest response and gets you ready for digestion, relaxation and general well-being.
Why your Heart Rate Variability needs to be in the optimal range
Apart from your internal feelings of relaxation and stress, your HRV or Heart Rate Variability determines whether you’re either in the sympathetic or parasympathetic mode.
HRV reflects the activity levels in the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is among the main players of your body’s central nervous system. The activity levels indicate if you’re spending more time on your sympathetic or parasympathetic mode.
The Effect of Chronic Stress on HRV
Doctors and psychologists recognize the correlation between low HRV and a higher occurrence of depression, high blood pressure, heart diseases, stress, and anxiety.
“Over the past few decades, research has shown a relationship between low HRV and worsening depression or anxiety. A low HRV is even associated with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease.” Harvard Medical School
On the other hand, optimal ranges in HRV is associated with:
- Reduced stress
- Better adapted to stressful situations
- Improved performance
- Better functioning in day-to-day life
The Central Autonomic Network is the key to reduce stress
Optimal ranges in HRV influence the Central Autonomic Network or CAN in the creation of our “executive function”. The CAN, with its connections in the limbic system, functions as a bridge between the mind and body.
The Executive Function consists of:
- Working memory stores information about our present environment and events to incorporate the changes happening in the surroundings
- Collecting and classifying information from the mind and body to negotiate and react to the current moment experience
The CAN promotes more time spent in the PNS or the rest-and-digest response while preventing the SNS or the fight-or-flight response from activating when it’s not needed.
Consequently, HRV is high when our CAN is active, which also increases the executive function and makes us:
- Become more focused
- More accurate and effective in our decision-making
- Less prone to heart attacks, heart disease, depression, stress and anxiety
- Happier and less stressed about all the things we’re doing
Maintaining a balanced nervous system with acupuncture
Studies conducted in 2012 show that acupuncture increases HRV, which also helps CAN reach its optimal range. Acupuncture helped improve the symptoms in patients with:
- Muscle pain
- Heart disease
- Mild anxiety
Holistic treatment for a more balanced individual
Acupuncture is beneficial to people who want to lose weight, improve their athletic performance, or seek natural ways to relieve pain. Here at PIQUE, we provide a holistic approach while adapting to each individual’s wide-ranging personal factors.