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Case Study: Acupuncture for Anxiety, a Real World Example

Anxiety is one of the most common things I treat here in the acupuncture clinic.

Recently I posted a blog about the new study that gives us a clue as to how acupuncture is helping with stress, by regulating our stress hormones in the brain, blocking the HPA pathway to ward off heightened tension.

On the heels of that report, this week I am going to share a real world story of a current patient who is a very typical one which I see for stress and anxiety.  Her name has been changed for confidentiality, and I will call her Brenna. 

Anxiety Patient History

Brenna started coming to me for acupuncture about 6 months ago.

Brenna is in her late 30’s, and although there was nothing in her life that she could target as a particular trigger for stress, she reported constantly moving through life with underlying tension that at any moment could break into a panic attack. 

Before coming for acupuncture, she would have:

  • panic attacks about twice per week, in which she felt like she was “going to die”.
  • severe shortness of breath
  • palpitations
  • racing heart 
  • For the next few days, she would have IBS like symptoms with alternating constipation and diarrhea, and severe stomach cramps.  As soon as she started feeling better, the cycle would continue.

Acupuncture Treatment & Progress

As is common, I began by treating her with acupuncture twice per week. 

After starting acupuncture, her panic attacks immediately decreased by about 1/2, going down to about once per week in the first couple weeks.  At the end of the first month, they were occurring about once every 10 days. 

Her digestion had also greatly improved, and while she would still get some stomach cramping around the time of her panic attacks, her stools had dramatically normalized, to being on the loose side but never diarrhea or constipation. 

By the end of her second month, she had stopped having panic attacks altogether, and at that time we stepped back to once per month acupuncture treatments as she was doing so much better and her emotions had stabilized very well. 

She reported having much less awareness of constant stress, and while she is a self-professed “worry wart” and “extreme Type A”, she noticed things would roll off her easier and she was able to have healthier “mind talk” during situations in which she had typically not been able to talk herself down from “self-imposed stress”, such as not getting through her to-do list for the day.

Maintenance Acupuncture Treatment

At this point, I see Brenna about once every 4 to 6 weeks.

Although there have been a couple times where she thought she may have a panic attack (once before having to give a major presentation for a new job, the other when a close family member was in a severe car accident), she was able to move through both situations without an attack.  She reports having more realistic expectations for herself, and overall much better energy which enables her to drink less coffee, which also helps prevent tension.

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Summary of Acupuncture treatment for anxiety

Before coming for acupuncture, Brenna had tried a few different anti-anxiety pills, and none of them had given her a noticeable enough result to warrant the horrible side-effects she experienced with each one. 

Today, she is a walking advertisement for acupuncture, and is constantly encouraging her co-workers (many of whom are also very Type A) to try acupuncture as well, as in their high stress sales jobs many share the same personality types and therefore similar reactions to everyday stress.

Although I am writing about Brenna, this could just as likely have been about Jodi, or Staci, or Della. Stress, accompanied by digestive issues is something that acupuncture is very effective at treating, along with a host of other symptoms that commonly accompany the same imbalance, such as menstrual irregularities, migraines, and sleep disturbances.

We’re now in Spring, associated with the Liver and therefore affecting stress

As I wrote about last week, we are now in Spring, which is the season related to the liver and the Wood Element, according to 5 Element acupuncture theory.  The liver is related to stress and its job is to regulate stress.  Because it is easier for the liver to get out of balance in the spring, patients may notice increased tension and impatience

The good news however, is that treatments aimed at balancing the liver, given at this time of year, will also have a heightened affect.

If you’ve been dealing with undo stress or anxiety that you know is getting out of hand, this may be the perfect time to start addressing it with acupuncture, resting confidently in the assurance that even scientific studies are validating its effectiveness, down to the actual chemical mechanism that it acts upon.

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Tags: acupuncture and anxiety liver qi stagnation