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Holiday Qi: Acupuncture is Rx for Stress, Anxiety and the Holiday Blues

Depression is a condition that involves both the mind and the body and affects how a person feels, thinks, and behaves, and can often make a person feel anxious and apathetic. People who suffer from depression or anxiety can experience muscle pain, headaches, upset digestion, fatigue, and loss of interest, among other symptoms. Anxiety, in particular, can be triggered by stress. With travel, big family reunions or party plans, and gift-buying frenzies, the holidays are a particularly stressful time and many people feel the effects of anxiety or depression in December and January.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) evaluates the entire body system, including physical conditions and emotional symptoms, and treatments are uniquely tailored to each patient with the goal of healing the body and mind, as well as revitalizing the spirit. While this is fundamental in any TCM treatment, this treatment of the mind, body, and spirit together is especially fitting for depression and anxiety. Each traditional Chinese medicine treatment, including acupuncture, is an individual treatment plan devised for the patient’s specific issues and health history. An integral part of acupuncture practice is the total evaluation of a person’s “qi”, pronounced “chi”, the body’s vital life energy, and how to accelerate the circulation of qi and blood through a system of specific channels running throughout the body, called meridians. Each meridian relates to major body organs and functions, as well as emotions.

The emotions associated with loss, repressed expression, and other stressful events will cause the muscular structure surrounding the chest cavity to constrict and tighten near the lungs and heart. The chest constriction restricts the qi flow to the liver and heart, a condition diagnosed in TCM as qi stagnation in the liver. Without release, the tension now contained within the chest cavity will continue to strain the heart, which, left untreated, results in panic attacks, anxiety, and panic syndrome, also described in TCM as a condition called ‘Heat in the Heart’.

Because TCM connects the mind, body, and spirit and recognizes this connection, anxiety often leads patients to try acupuncture for the first time, as they realize the important tie between their physical and emotional health. Rebecca is a 28 year old NYC artist with a bright future ahead of her, but has struggled with stress and anxiety for the last six years. She has tried psychotherapy to relieve her symptoms, but it wasn't until she stumbled upon acupuncture and began adding regular acupuncture treatments at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, New York clinic to her regimen that she started to feel more sustained relief from her stress and anxiety. Today she is happy, working on several art installations and as a nanny, and is a strong advocate for the healing power of acupuncture.

Acupuncture involves the strategic placement of fine needles on specific points of the body related to meridians. This increases blood circulation and stimulates qi, removing energetic blockages and restoring the flow of vital qi energy throughout the body. Once inserted, the needles remain in body for anywhere between fifteen to thirty minutes, during which time the practitioner may rotate the needles or add a mild electric pulse or vibration to further induce relaxation of the muscles.

Studies show that most Americans report unhealthy levels of stress, and holidays can add to anxiety, stress, and depression—particularly in challenging economic times. As use of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication continues to increase, a natural, safe and cost-effective antidote to stress might be just what the doctor orders.

Hospitals and larger medical practices are increasingly embracing alternative therapies. Studies suggest that acupuncture--which is focused on restoring the body’s “qi”, can indeed reduce symptoms of depression, decrease anxiety, and help relieve stress. Practicing a little self-care this holiday season need not deplete scarce holiday funds: 70 to 80% of insurers now cover acupuncture; clinics at acupuncture schools offer acupuncture and massage sessions supervised by licensed practitioners at reduced rates; and a variety of locations offer Community Acupuncture at affordable (often sliding scale) rates. Chinese medicine has been used in China for over five thousand years and is a holistic, natural alternative to antidepressants or medications that may have side effects. Acupuncture is a drug-free way to feel deep relaxation and to revitalize the spirit.

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