Acupuncture can help with a wide variety of conditions. One of these, mental ill-health, is becoming a larger and larger issue. It’s close to my heart, as I’ve suffered myself. Acupuncture for mental health is beneficial for many people.
The most common forms of mental ill-health are anxiety and depression. These conditions can affect anyone. Two thirds of us suffer with these conditions at least once in our lives, to the extent that we’re unable to continue with our general routine. Of course, we all have low times, for instance around strong emotional events in our lives. It is when these lows or worries become persistent that they become a mental health issue.
Anxiety and depression
I spent four years working as an acupuncturist in rehab centres, and so I’ve had a lot of experience with treating anxiety and depression. They are certainly tough areas to work with. There is something especially unnerving when your mind and emotions are causing issues that feel out of your control, as compared to ‘purely’ physical issues.
From a Chinese Herbal Medicine perspective, anxiety and depression come under two different pathologies. We consider low mood, low energy and depressive tendencies a stagnation of the liver energy, as though the pipes of the system have become blocked and everything feels that much harder and stickier to achieve. Anxiety, however, is more commonly related to a weakness in the digestive system. We see each organ system as having a psychological function as well as a physical one. Thus the digestive system also ‘digests’ our thoughts. So if it’s not working well, thoughts can continue to run in circles in our minds and become increasingly difficult to switch off.
Acupuncture for mental health
Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine each work to circulate, boost and relax the necessary systems, to reduce the symptoms and also to make the individual more resilient against future issues. There have been a number of research pieces now that point to the mechanisms of acupuncture for mental health. Research shows that acupuncture:
- reduces the brain’s sensitivity to stress
- relaxes the analytical brain that causes anxiety
- reduces stress-induced changes in behaviour and biochemistry
- reduces inflammation, which can contribute to anxiety and depression
- stimulates production of ‘happy’ and relaxing chemicals (dopamine, serotonin, GABA etc.)
- boosts the parasympathetic nervous system, which is our ‘rest and digest’ system
- regulates levels of neurotransmitters and hormones in order to bring the system back into a relaxed state of balance
- resets the resting brain, which can become dysfunctional in depression
- assists with related conditions such as insomnia and chronic pain, allowing the body and mind to relax
A healthy lifestyle for mental health
Research shows that it’s essential to have a healthy diet and lifestyle to reduce and prevent mental ill-health conditions. Current research is pointing to high levels of chronic inflammation, often starting in the gut, being related to mental ill-health conditions, especially anxiety and depression. Some of the best ways to reduce such issues are to avoid processed foods, especially sugar, refined carbohydrates and gluten and most dairy. Exercise is essential for physical and mental wellbeing. Relaxation practices like meditation, breathing exercises and yoga are also important.
Communities help mental health
For most people, it is also important to feel worthwhile. Being an active part of a community: a sports group, a gardening or craft group, a political or activist group, a walking or hiking group, or just spending time with family or friends, are all great ways to feel good in yourself and get more out of life.
If you have any questions as a result of this article, feel free to get in touch.
For those already medicated for depression, anxiety or another mental ill-health condition I would strongly recommend reading A Mind of Your Own by Kelly Brogan