Acupuncture for Stress & Anxiety

Acupuncture for Stress & Anxiety: How does it work?

            The feeling of stress and anxiety is no stranger to the average American. According to the American Institute of Stress 77% of people experience stress that affects their physical health, and many of those people, even now, aren’t aware that acupuncture is a treatment modality that is available for stress and anxiety. Not to mention a possible resolution to patients lowering the need for opioids or doing away with them completely.

Stress & Anxiety

            While stress is something that in small doses is not a bad thing, and can help us feel engaged, accomplished, and necessary, if it becomes constant it can be harmful physically and psychologically over time leading to anxiety and depression. If the chronic stress spills over into the realm of anxiety, it becomes a more intense version of a person’s fight or flight response from the release of stress hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine. Although the severity and symptoms can vary from person to person, there are several emotional and physical symptoms that trademark stress and anxiety.

Symptoms of Stress and Anxiety:

  • Aches and pains

  • Chest pain or racing heart

  • Rapid breathing

  • Insomnia

  • High blood pressure

  • Muscle tension/twitching or jaw clenching

  • Stomach and digestive/gastrointestinal issues

  • Struggles focusing or thinking clearly
The occasional stress and anxiety are completely normal and okay to have, but unfortunately many people suffer in silence without being treated or believe their only option is prescription medications. Acupuncture is a great modality to educate patients on if they’re suffering from chronic stress and anxiety.

Acupuncture & Stress or Anxiety

            In western medicine terms, acupuncture has, over the years with new research, has been conceptualized through neuroscience in which connective tissues, nerves, and muscles are stimulated, and neurochemicals and hormones are released. However, in TCM terms, we know that the mind and body are never separate entities, and you can’t treat one without treating the other.

Acupuncture points for stress & anxiety:

  • PC6 – Inner Pass – Nei Guan – located 2 cun above the wrist crease between the tendons of flexor carpi radialis and palmaris longus.

  • HT7 – Spirit Gate – Shen Men – located at the wrist crease on the between the ulna and pisiform bones on the radial side of the flexor carpi ulnaris tendon.

  • EX-HN3 – Hall of Seal – Yintang – located in the center between the medial ends of the eyebrows.

  • “Four Doors” points – CV12, located midway between CV8 and CV16 4 cun above CV8, CV6, located midway between CV5 and CV7 1.5 cun below CV8, and ST25, located 2 cun lateral to the umbilicus.

  • Auricular Points – Sympathetic, Shen Men, Kidney, Liver, and Lung.
 Acupuncture works by helping our patients to relax and shift from the fight or flight nervous system into the parasympathetic nervous system along with balancing the body. Additionally, the “feel-good” hormones released during acupuncture treatment allow for a happier more relaxed feeling.

Hormones released during acupuncture:

  • Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)

  • Serotonin

  • Dopamine

  • Epinephrine
Additionally, acupuncture works by decreasing cortisol, the stress hormone, and helps to essentially retrain the patient’s body to operate outside of fight or flight mode.

Acupuncture Research for Stress & Anxiety

            There are various studies showing the benefits of acupuncture for stress and anxiety, including helping with weight gain from stress, physiologic stress, and managing and reducing stress.

A Clinical Heart Rate Variability Study in Hypertensive Patients – 2014:

  • The goal of this study was to investigate a multitude of patients being treated with acupuncture over a period of weeks and months for hypertension to determine if acupuncture can reduce physiological stress over time.

  • The results were that the majority of patients’ heart rate variability was increased during, after, and in some cases, the weeks and months after acupuncture treatment.

  • The study concluded that some patients heart rate variability increased over the course of the acupuncture treatment for hypertension shown by the decrease in their low frequency to high frequency ratio of heart rate variability.

Effectiveness of Acupuncture Therapy on Stress in a Large Urban College Population – 2017:

  • The goal of this study was to explore the effectiveness of acupuncture on stress in patients who work or study on a large, urban college campus comparing verum and sham acupuncture.

  • The study included 111 patients who had reported high stress levels, but only 62 participants completed the study. The 62 participants were separated into the sham acupuncture group and the verum acupuncture group receiving treatment once a week for 12 weeks. The Cohen’s global measure of perceived stress scale was given to each patient to complete before, at 6 weeks, at 12 weeks, and 6 weeks and 12 weeks after completing treatments.

  • The study concluded acupuncture to be successful in significantly decreasing stress and the effects of the treatment were beneficial at least 3 months post-treatment.

Acupuncture on Obesity – Clinical Evidence and Possible Neuroendocrine Mechanisms – 2018:

  • The goal of this meta-analysis was to investigate the efficiency of acupuncture due to stress.

  • Six databases were inspected, and eligible studies were ones with comparative controls such as sham, no treatment, diet and exercise, and conventional medicine. Of the 21 studies including 1389 participants, there were significantly better results with acupuncture treatments versus sham acupuncture.

  • The meta-analysis concluded that acupuncture was an considerably effective treatment for obesity from stress and indicated that neuroendocrine regulation may be involved.

Effectiveness of Acupuncture on Anxiety Disorder – A Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials – 2021:

  • The goal of this meta-analysis was to explore the positive effectiveness of acupuncture for anxiety disorder.

  • Multiple randomized controlled trials were searched in both English and Chinese through various electronic databases. There were 20 random controlled trials included in the review, all designed for patients with generalized anxiety disorder, 18 of which were published in Chinese.

  • The meta-analysis showed that acupuncture was more effective than the control conditions, was tolerated well by the participants, and was safe in the treatment of anxiety disorder.

Reduce Stress & Anxiety with Acupuncture

            The connection of stress and anxiety on both physical and mental health is one that acupuncturists, as healthcare professionals, know too well go hand in hand. According to the American Institute of Stress, 73% of people have stress that impacts their mental health, and unfortunately, stress levels in the United States are getting worse instead of better. It is beneficial for us as healthcare providers to educate those in the acupuncture community, and those who may not know acupuncture benefits, to educate patients on acupuncture for stress and anxiety treatment and management.
Anxiety. British Acupuncture Council. Accessed May 11, 2021.
Stress. British Acupuncture Council. Accessed May 11, 2021.
Did You Know? Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Accessed May 11, 2021.
What is Stress? The American Institute of Stress. Accessed May 11, 2021.
Stefanie Schroeder, James Burnis, Antony Denton, Aaron Krasnow, T.S. Raghu, & Kimberly Mathis. Effectiveness of Acupuncture Therapy on Stress in a Large Urban College Population. Science Direct. July 14, 2017. Accessed May 11, 2021.
Kristen Sparrow and Brenda Golianu. Does Acupuncture Reduce Stress Over Time? A Clinical Heart Rate Variability Study in Hypertensive Patients. PubMed Central, Medical Acupuncture. October 1, 2014. Accessed May 11, 2021.
Xiang-yun Yang, Ning-bo Yang, Fang-fang Huang, Shuai Ren, & Zhan-jiang Li. Effectiveness of Acupuncture on Anxiety Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. BMC Public Health. January 30, 2021. Accessed May 11, 2021.
Kepei Zhang, Shigao Zhou, Chunyan Wang, Hanchen Xu, & Li Zhang. Acupuncture on Obesity: Clinical Evidence and Possible Neuroendocrine Mechanisms. National Library of Medicine. June 14, 2018. Accessed May 11, 2021.