We all experience stress and anxiety from time to time. Whether it’s an overly busy schedule, worrying about the economy, or the upcoming holiday season, stress is a normal part of every day life. However, if anxiety plays an excessive role in our lives, or interferes with our daily life, or seems to occur without reasonable cause, we may need to seek treatment for our anxiety.
Symptoms of anxiety include muscle tension, rapid breathing, trouble breathing, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, palpitations, headaches, sweating, fatigue, irritability, trembling, nausea, and sleep disturbances. Any of these symptoms can signal the need to address the stress in our lives.
Stress has been found to weaken our immune systems, contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and may affect our cancer risk.
The body responds to stress by releasing stress hormones, such as epinephrine, (also known as adrenaline), and cortisol. The body produces these stress hormones to help a person react to a situation with more speed and strength. Stress hormones increase blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels.
Stress can also lead to unhealthy behaviors, such as overeating, smoking, eating unhealthy foods, and alcohol use, which can contribute to ill health.
Medications used to treat anxiety include anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines and buspirone, and antidepressant medications, like tricyclic antidepressants. These medications have numerous side effects, ranging from drowsiness, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, insomnia, nervousness, light-headedness, tremors, sexual dysfunction, urinary retention, confusion, headaches, and cardiac problems. Physical dependence on medications is possible.
Non-drug options to treat anxiety include nutrition, exercise, herbs, acupuncture, and relaxation techniques.
It is commonly suggested that people with anxiety avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, sugar, and refined foods. Calcium, magnesium, and B-complex are considered to help support the nervous system and minimize the effects of stress, and are often recommended.
Meditation has long been recognized as a powerful tool for cultivating peace of mind and inner balance. Studies have shown that meditation plays a positive role in stress reduction. There are literally hundreds of meditation techniques taught around the world. It is a valuable practice for reducing stress and anxiety.
There is evidence that acupuncture can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety. One study showed that benefits continued as long as one year after treatment.
A systematic literature review on the use of acupuncture for treating anxiety was published in 2007. Randomized controlled trials were reviewed, and the study reported positive findings for acupuncture in the treatment of anxiety.
Acupuncturists treat people with anxiety based on an individualized assessment, creating treatment plans for each person. People commonly feel very relaxed and calm immediately after an acupuncture treatment, and the positive effects can remain with them for long periods of time.
Auricular acupuncture can also be used to treat stress and anxiety, and is commonly used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. The acupuncture points on the ears are very powerful, and can be valuable in treating a variety of problems, including anxiety.
There are safe and effective Chinese herbal formulas that help decrease anxiety and relieve symptoms of stress. The October, 2004 edition of the Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients summarized a study that found that one Chinese herbal formula had a 90% effective rate, with fewer side effects than Western medication. Chinese herbal formulas should be chosen based on the individual’s Chinese medicine diagnosis, taking into consideration any medications, supplements, or herbs that the person might be using.
Whether we’re experiencing stress and anxiety during a difficult period of time, or it’s a frequent factor in our lives, there are safe and effective treatment options.
Copyright 2008 by Jeri Petz, MSOM, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM), Dipl. OM (NCCAOM)
Jade Acupuncture Clinic Ltd.