Acupuncture For Anxiety And Stress In Swansea
“I feel so relaxed…”
“My brain went empty…”
“Was I sleeping?”
Some common comments after treatment.
But why so relaxing?
Well, acupuncture affects the autonomic nervous system – the part of nervous system responsible for tasks outside your control. The beating of your heart, digestion, perspiration, moods.
The autonomic nervous system is split into two parts – the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the fight or flight response. Heart rate speeds up, anxiety levels increase as you look for danger. The parasympathetic nervous system in contrast is responsible for essential bodily processes such as digestion, breathing, circulation.
The essence of acupuncture is to create balance in the nervous system. To function well the sympathetic nervous system must be balanced with the parasympathetic. It’s this homeostatic response where I feel acupuncture shines.
Acupuncture For Anxiety
Treatment for anxiety is not a quick fix. I frequently find anxiety is something that has deep roots, often traced back to childhood. Behavioural patterns become entrenched, like a well trodden path through a field of long grass.
Look at the image at the top of this page. A path leads from the bottom of the page to the top. Imagine this to be a neural pathway in the brain – representing a behavioural pattern or habit. As you approach the field above you see only one way through the field of grass. You could choose to walk anyway through the grass – create your own path. But its much easier to follow the well trodden path.
If that path represents a negative behavioural pattern this is not good. You need to create a new path – a positive behavioural pattern. This involves trampling a new route through the grass – maybe diagonally off to the right of the picture. The grass is long and well established so this won’t be easy.
You travel this path once – the grass gets trampled a little bit. The next day you approach the field again. Two paths are available – one heavily trampled the other lightly trampled. You have a decision to make again. One path is easy still. The other difficult, but slightly more easy now. The positive behavioural patterns must be reinforced, the difficult path travelled consistently until it becomes the default option. A new healthy habit.
This ability to adopt new behaviours is known as functional neuroplasticity. There are permanent changes in the synapses following self development and learning. I think its hugely exciting. It means that if you put the work in you can change the way you behave and interact.
How Does this Neuro-plasticity Apply To acupuncture?
So this is all very interesting but how does it related to acupuncture treatment for anxiety? Its thought the calmness that follow an acupuncture treatment is due to calming of the sympathetic nervous system. On its own this can be enough for people who suffer anxiety with no obvious trigger. If anxiety has a trigger – social situations, driving, work, going outside then these activities need to be carried out whilst in a calmer state. You need to be exposed, to a certain degree, to the trigger, to create these new neural pathways, new ways of behaving when exposed to stress.
- Did you know?
Research from University of York found acupuncture better than standard NHS treatment for depression. It faired even better when paired with talking therapies such as counselling or psychology.
But why are so many people feeling anxious nowadays?
This Anxious Generation
Our current “always on” society gives us little time to just escape and “be”. Even a quiet walk in the country or by the sea can be interrupted by Facebook updates and text messages. This downtime is important for our health and creativity. Studies have shown that the unconscious mind is better at problem solving than the conscious mind.
Salvador Dali recognised this. Apparently, he would doze with a key in hand rested over a plate or glass. At the point where he was about to fall asleep his fingers naturally relaxed, dropping the key onto the glass. This would wake him up in a state of partial sleep, unconscious activated. Primed to create another masterpiece.
Our brains need downtime to process the thoughts and emotions from the day. If you’re having a lot of vivid dreams and nightmares this may be a sign that you’re not creating enough time in your day to process emotions and difficulties. Depriving yourself of this downtime can lead to stress and anxiety, struggling to cope with the demands of a hectic daily life.
Historically stress is a short term response to a potential life threatening situation. In hunter-gatherer days this may have included being attacked by wild animals. In small doses and in the right situation stress is useful. Blood pressure rises as blood and oxygen are sent to the muscles and brain to improve function. The process of digestion and saliva production are shut down. After all who needs to digest food when your very survival is threatened?
Anxiety – Not All Bad?
Whilst chronic anxiety is not good or healthy, small doses of short term stress have been shown to boost the immune system, improve resilience and create new habits. Stress mildly challenges systems which adapt and becomes stronger as a result. You don’t get stronger without lifting weights, stressing and breaking down muscle. In a similar vein its very difficult to become resilient without exposing yourself to stressful situations. However, these situations must be limited and you must have time to recuperate.
Otherwise you can find yourself in a situation of chronic stress. Chronic stress is a destructive force. Stress raises cortisol a hormone that raises blood sugar levels and cuts off functions that are not needed in a fight or flight situation – digestion, immunity & repair. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to understand the damage to your health resulting from high blood sugar levels and poorly functioning immune and digestive system.
Reframing anxiety as a force for good in your life to get you through short term “threats” can be useful. In its simplest form anxiety shows you care. If you’re anxious about your work, it shows you care about the quality of work you produce. Anxious about meeting people? Anxious about what the future may bring? Shows you care and value life.
Whilst this technique of reframing does not get rid of anxiety it can lessen its impact.
Reframing, mindfulness (in its many guises), breathing exercises, the 5 elements are all techniques I use in conjunction with acupuncture to help you feel better.