Acupuncture and the Traditional Chinese Medicine Diagnosis of Depression and Anxiety

Depression is a condition that involves both the mind and the body and affects how a person feels, thinks, and behaves, and may make a person feel anxious and apathetic. Many people who suffer from depression or anxiety complain of muscle pain, headache, upset digestion, fatigue, and loss of interest, among other things. 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.


Central to 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 on 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 ‘Heart in the Heart’.

By stimulating certain points of the body surface reached by meridians with the strategic insertion of fine needles, blood circulation increases and energetic blockages are removed to restore 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.


In 1998, the NIH’s Office of Alternative Medicine funded a study designed by John Allen PhD and acupuncturist Rosa Schnyer at the University of Arizona on thirty-four seriously depressed women. According to TCM, the energetic quality of each organ evokes characteristic feelings such as anger, excitement, worry, sadness, or fear, and, thereby, acupuncture treatments can be tailored to each person’s emotional state. Since the predominant emotion underlying ‘depression’ might be anger, or anxiety, or worry, or grief, or fear, the treatment is thus adjusted. According to the study, of the women treated with specific acupuncture treatments, forty-three percent showed a reduction in their symptoms.

Acupuncture is also an effective treatment for anxiety caused by certain stress-inducing situations. A 2007 study of sixty-seven dental patients about to go through a painful dental procedure found that an acupuncture session prior to the procedure was as effective as anti-anxiety medication in lowering anxiety.

Chinese medicine works holistically and has been used in China for over five thousand years. Acupuncture is a drug-free way to feel deep relaxation and to revitalize the spirit. Additionally, seventy to eighty percent of insurers in the US cover acupuncture treatments.


Rosted P, Bundgaard M, Gordon S, Pedersen AM. “Acupuncture in the management of anxiety related to dental treatment: a case series.” Acupunct Med. 2010 28(1):3-5.

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