Acupuncture for Management of Work-Related Stress and Anxiety

Guest Blogger: Kristen Danish, LAP
It seems that stress has become an all too familiar work companion for most people.  Whether caused by work relationships, getting to and from work, or the work itself, stress shows up and the effects of it come in many forms.

What is stress?   It’s a normal physiological response to the demands of life, the physical adaptation to deal with the impending dangers of the natural world.  It can help improve your chances of survival by increasing hormone levels, heart rate, breathing and mental awareness. Stress can even assist you to work and perform more effectively when needed for your job when the pressures on.

Our bodies are designed to help us react to stressful events.  At the first sign of a threat, whether real or perceived, our sympathetic nervous system activates and facilitates our “fight or flight” response.  Our heart rate increases, our pupils dilate, and our digestion temporarily shuts down, directing more blood to our extremities, so that if need be, we can either fight what is threatening us or turn and run if it is too formidable. 

When we are healthy and the stress is short-lived, we are usually able to recover without too much wear and tear on our overall health.  However if stress is on-going for a long period of time or becomes extreme, our emotional health and ultimately, our physical health begins to suffer.

The flight or fight response is great if we’re avoiding a car accident or responding to a bear sighting on a hike.  However, it the “threat” is a demanding boss, nasty co-worker or even a worrisome situation that is not being resolved, this response does not serve us as intended.  Quite often, the stress in our lives is long-term and as a result we find ourselves in a constant state of “flight or fight.”  Over time, this condition takes its toll.  Cortisol, the body’s stress hormone elevates, blood pressure increases, and our immune function is suppressed. If not relieved, these symptoms will become worse and can develop into anxiety, depression, fatigue, digestive problems, tight shoulders, and tension headaches.  This continual stressed state is detrimental to your reserves of vitality and energy which begins to interfere with your ability to fight off disease. 

It has been difficult to develop a controlled, blinded study measuring the effects of acupuncture on stress relief.   However, a recent study conducted by researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., it was shown that when treated with electro-acupuncture properly, neuropeptides, the protein that are increased to handle stressful situations, were measurably reduced.  Published in the journal Experimental Biology and Medicine on January 1, 2012.  In another study conducted by 2 researchers at Yale University School of Medicine, a group of patients was assembled for a blind, randomized,  controlled trial.  The patients were undergoing surgery which created an acute anxiety condition.  The study found that while acupuncture treatment did not produce physiological changes, subjects who received acupuncture experienced a profound change in their behavioral anxiety levels.  In addition, they stated that “The results of the study suggest that acupuncture may be an effective treatment for individuals experiencing intense levels of daily stress and anxiety.”

In Chinese medicine, stress, anxiety, depression or any strong emotion interrupts the smooth flow of energy throughout the body.  We look at all of the different “channels” of energy to find where it is moving either too fast, too slow, or has become stagnant.  The channels are related to and named after different organs, for example, with st
ress we are generally interested in the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) liver organ system.  When the body is overworked or overwhelmed by stress, it tights up. This tightening affects the TCM Liver organ and related channel. The Liver is responsible for moving qi (energy) throughout the body. When the body tights up due to stress, the Liver qi becomes inhibited,  slows down and become blocked.  These blockages lead to all of the symptoms resulting from too much stress. 

Through acupuncture, these energy blockages can be addressed.  Acupuncture points energize and get the channels flowing smoothly again.  Treatments not only alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety, but the stress itself, helping to prevent further symptomatic episodes caused by it.  By balancing the mind and body, our reactions to the same situations can be calmer, more relaxed and less upsetting.  This is referred to as a sense of well-being and is long lasting, especially with some effort by the patient.

From a Western medical viewpoint, acupuncture works to alleviate stress by releasing neurotransmitters and natural pain-killing endorphins from the brain.  In addition, acupuncture improves circulation of blood, which oxygenates the tissues and cycles out cortisol and other waste chemicals.  The calming nature of acupuncture also lowers blood pressure, decreases heart rate if needed, and relaxes the muscles and mind. 

By using acupuncture for stress, the entire body and mind become balanced and stronger and better able to handle the next situation that shows up in life.  There is no down side, it’s relatively painless and the only side effects are increased relaxation, more energy and a better nights sleep.

This post was written for Bartlett Acupunctureand Herbal Medicine by Karen Danish, LAP. Karen is a licensed physician and a valued staff member at AnneHermann MD, PA.