Acupuncture Helps Anxiety

In a high paced world where so much depends upon our ability to function comfortably in family, in the workplace and in social interactions anxiety is an emotion felt by almost all of us - male and female, young, middle-aged and older. Often the result of attempting to master our anxiety leads to other, sometimes serious, health issues in addition to being a source of continuing day-to-day discomfort.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Western medicine identifies a condition known as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and labels it as not only a psychological condition, but a physiological state. GAD is characterized by excessive, exaggerated worry about everyday life happenings. It can be accompanied by dizziness, sweating, heart pounding, headaches or nausea. GAD affects almost 3% of U.S. adults annually, and almost 6% in their lifetimes. Most cases are mild (23.1%) or moderate (44.6%), but 32.3% of instances are serious and debilitating.1

Everyday Anxiety

But everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. It is the body's normal reaction to a stressful situation. At times it can be beneficial since it stimulates our alertness and physical readiness (flight or fight) or may motivate us to be well prepared (as for an exam).

The difference is that everyday anxiety arises in the presence of a stressor, such as an upcoming interview, or being late. Normal anxiety is fleeting, lasting only as long as the situation warrants it.2 GAD interferes with your life, everyday anxiety may make you uncomfortable, but you can accomplish your day-to-day tasks.

Relief for both GAD and Everyday Anxiety

According to researchers, acupuncture is helpful for both types of anxiety.

GAD. There have been many many examinations of whether acupuncture is helpful for anxiety disorder. The quality of research varies widely, however the consistancy of statistically significant positive results and the variety of anxiety-related conditions treated strongly suggests that real benefits accrue as a result of acupuncture treatment.3

The mechanism of why acupuncture is effective for GAD is beginning to be understood in light of recent research. The ANP system (atrial natriuretic peptide) plays an important role in the pathology of anxiety and is a predictor for addictive behavior and cravings4 which are linked to anxiety. Dysfunction of the ANP system is closely associated with anxiety disorder. Acupuncture helps to regulate AND as well as the system involving heart and brain, the natriuretic peptide (NP) system.5

There are many studies about the effectiveness of acupuncture on chronic anxiety disorder. Just to discuss one more, 40 patients on a psychiatry waiting list were randomly treated with acupuncture or sham acupuncture. Standard indexes of anxiety, the state anxiety index (STAI-S) and trait anxiety demonstrated that improvements in the group receiving acupuncture were highly statistically significant for both measurements.6

Everyday Anxiety. Researchers investigated whether acupuncture would be helpful for anxiety experienced prior to surgery finding that. compared to controls, 52 adult surgical patients experienced STAI-S reductions after one 20-minute session of single-point acupuncture (ear acupuncture) prior to surgery.7

In another study 90 university students were tested to see whether acupuncture could improve memory and anxiety. Their STAI-S scores after treatment showed 9.5% better scores compared to the control. In addition they made 36% fewer math errors.8

Other studies found that acupuncture treatment was highly effective for people with a wide variety of stressors, including: stress experienced by health care workers,9 military veterans,10 and patients with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).11

How Does It Work

Acupuncture restores balance in the system of meridians in the body by removing blockages to flow of energy (Qi). When Qi's smooth flow is disrupted health problems, including anxiety, can result. Acupuncture treatment slows the production of hormones that increase a stressful reaction in the presence of stressors.

Hormones are biochemicals produced by the endocrine glands that play a role in communication between different parts of the body. The interaction of the adrenal, hypothalamus and pituitary glands, in particular, (known as the hupothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis) as well as the sympathetic nervous system, are central to the body's reaction to stressful situations. Their interaction evokes the fight or flight response, and we have the experience of anxiety. Acupuncture is effective in reducing stress hormones in the brain and the adrenals.12

Value of Acupuncture

Quick. Acupuncture's results can be immediate; while not everyone notices instant relief, generally results are noticed by the next day.

Reduces reinforcement. For people who suffer from GAD, who, for example are prone to panic attacks, just the fear of having a panic attack can cause one. Acupuncture reduces this phenomenon of thoughts that reinforce negative experience, and reducing the potential of future events.

General health and well-being. Acupuncture addresses a wide variety of conditions ranging from pain to insomnia - these conditions frequently cause or aggravate our feeling of anxiousness. This is why your acupuncture health practitioner will ask for a full medical history before beginning treatment - other factors can be influenced simultanously and so alleviate both the anxiety and contributing causes.


1. National Institutes of Mental Health. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved Jul 19 2018 from
2. ULifeline. The difference between regular feelings of anxiety and a true anxiety disorder. Retrieved Jul 19 2018 from
3. Errington-Evans, N. (2012). Acupuncture for anxiety. CNS Neurosci Ther, Apr;18(4):277-84.
4. Koopman, A., Lemenager, T., Wolf, N.D., et al. (2014). The impact of atrial natriuretic peptide on anxiety, stress and craving in patients with alcohol dependence. Alcohol Alcohol, May-Jun;49)3);282-6.
5. He, W., Zhou, Q., Yu, S., et al. (2015). Mechanism on atrial natriuretic peptide receptor in anti-anxiety with acupuncture based on its tranquilizing effect. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu, Jan;35(1):101-4.
6. Errington-Evans, N. (2015). Randomised controlled trial on the use of acupuncture in adults with chronic, non-responding anxiety symptoms. Acupunct Med, Apr;33(2):98-102.
7. Acar, H.V., Cuvas, O., Ceyhan, A., et al. (2013). Acupuncture on Yintang point decreases preoperative anxiety. J Altern Complement Med, May;19(5):420-4
8. Russell, J. (2013). The effect of acupuncture on working memory and anxiety. J Acupunct Meridian Stud, Oct;6(5):241-6.
9. Reilly, P.M., Buchanan, T.M., Vafides, C., et al. (2014). Auricular acupuncture to relieve health care workers'stress and anxiety:impact on caring. Dimens Crit Care Nurs, May-Jun;33(3):151-9.
10. Chang, B.H., Sommers, E. (2014). Acupuncture and relaxation response for craving and anxiety reduction in recovery from substance use disorder. Am J Addict, Mar-Apr;23(2):129-36.
11. Carvalho, F., Weires, K., Ebling, M., et al. (2013). Effects of acupuncture on the symptoms of anxiety and depression caused by premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Acupunct Med, Dec;31(4):358-63.
12. Eshkevari, L., Permaul, E., Mulroney, S.E. (2013). Acupuncture blocks cold stress-induced increases in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis in the rat. J Endocrinol, Mar 15;217(1):95-104.

1. A.O. Freire, G.C. Sugai, et al, Immediate effect of acupuncture on the sleep pattern of patients with obstructive sleep apnoea, Acupuncture Medicine, September 2010.
2. Z.T. Lv, W.X. Jiang, et al, The Clinical Effect of Acupuncture in the Treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials, Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine, April, 2016.