Yaletown Vancouver

Treating Anxiety with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

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Treating Anxiety with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

If you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks, you’re very familiar with the symptoms—heart palpitations or the sensation of a racing heart, chest tightness, numbness and tingling in your hands and feet, feeling light headed, shortness of breath, and the general feeling of fear, or that you might die right now.

Anxiety can be a tricky thing.  For some people it seems to come out of nowhere and creep up at unexpected moments.  For others, anxiety is predictable and associated with certain events, fears, or situations.  Things like driving on the highway, eating in restaurants, and spiders all have the potential to create anxiety.

There are a number of causes of anxiety.  Traumatic events top the list.  People who have been exposed to trauma, violence, emotional duress, or threats of any kind know the source of their anxiety. This includes unrelenting stress and worry over a life event or situation that’s not easily resolved.

Unfortunately, many people experience anxiety symptoms and don’t know why, which only makes the anxiety worse.  These are the people who think they’re going crazy because they seemingly have no reason to feel anxious.  However, it’s important to know that anxiety can be caused by physical problems, such as hormonal imbalances, digestive issues, heart problems, and drug side effects.

Anxiety can run in families.  I have found that many of my patients who suffer from anxiety have either a parent or a child who also struggles with anxiety, too.  This may be due to genetic makeup or how a particular family copes with stressful life events. Whether anxiety in families is due to nature or nurture, it’s not uncommon that family members will have similar triggers for their anxiety.

In Chinese medicine, there are three organ systems related to anxiety; the Heart, Spleen, and Kidneys.

The Chinese view anxiety as worry that has gotten out of control.  Each organ system is associated with an emotion, and worry is the emotion associated with the Chinese Spleen.  The Spleen is also your organ system of digestion.  It sifts and sorts what you’ve eaten, takes what is useful, turns it into nutrients to fuel your body, and gets rid of what is not needed.  While your Spleen primarily digests foods, it also plays a role in the sifting and sorting of ideas.  While the emotion associated with the Spleen is worry, it is essentially the same as not being able to sort through and let go of unnecessary ideas.  Worry is a kind of unhealthy rumination, and when it gets out of control, worry becomes anxiety and fear.

While your Spleen is the organ of digestion, your Heart is the Chinese organ of feelings.  We intuitively know that the Heart is an emotional organ.  We feel things with all our heart, have our heart broken, or thank someone from the bottom of our heart. Your Heart is home to the Shen, or your spirit, according to Chinese theory.  Its function is similar to that of your brain in Western biomedicine.  As such your Heart is the home to consciousness, memory, emotions, and thinking.  Whenever someone suffers from any kind of emotional upset or condition, such as anxiety, the Heart is always involved.

Finally, the Chinese Kidney also plays a role in anxiety in a couple of ways.  First, the emotion related to the Kidney is fear, which is the underlying component of anxiety.  Secondly, the Kidney is the deepest and most nourishing of our organs.  It’s responsible for how well you age, your underlying body constitution, and is the source of all the fundamental substances in your body, such as Yin, Yang, and Essence.  Your Kidney is the organ system most damaged by stress and anxiety.  The Western condition of adrenal fatigue (from stress, anxiety, overwork, etc.) correlates to a severe Kidney depletion in Chinese medicine.

Chinese medicine and acupuncture can offer a number of strategies to help someone suffering from anxiety.  Your practitioner would work by first calming your Shen using acupuncture. This is an effective first line of defense, as research has documented the positive effects that acupuncture has on brain chemistry.   It has been found that acupuncture increases the secretion of endorphins in the brain, the feel good substance associated with pain relief and runner’s high. This effect accounts for the relaxing and calming sensation patients feel both during and after their treatments.

A  practitioner of Chinese medicine might also address your anxiety by nourishing your Spleen and restoring your Kidney health.  Beyond acupuncture, there are a number of safe and effective herbal formulas that can help calm anxiety. Your practitioner can prescribe the combination of herbs that is most appropriate to your individual needs.

Food therapy and lifestyle changes may also be part of your treatment for anxiety.  This may include at-home calming strategies, avoiding stimulants such as coffee or tea, dietary changes, and breathing techniques—all of which can be effective in relieving anxiety.

By Your Acupuncture Specialist, on March 30th

Thankful for Acupuncture and Herbs!

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Thanksgiving and Acupuncture: The Role of Chinese Medicine in Prevention

As we are about to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday here in Canada, we have the opportunity to be thankful for friends, family, and much more.  And for many of us we are thankful for the gift of health – or at least the gift of being alive!  But what does it mean to be “healthy”?  Is it simply the absence of serious illness or is there much more to the concept of being “well”?  And what is your role in fostering this wellness?

An aspect of Chinese Medicine which does not get the coverage it should is its role in the prevention of disease.  As with many acupuncturists, I find the majority of people come in for treatment after they have tried many western medicine options – and often after other alternatives as well.  With acupuncture and its uses, being one of the more poorly understood medical systems amongst the general public and the western medical community, this is not surprising.  What it means, however, is that your conditions have had more time to develop and, often, worsen.

While Chinese Medicine can be used to treat nearly any condition at any stage, it excels in many ways at treating conditions before they begin to develop.  Some of the reasons acupuncture can be useful in complex conditions with varying symptoms like Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, and various neurological conditions is that it doesn’t treat the “condition” per se, but the “pattern” that is behind its development.  The patterns in Chinese Medicine look at your entire range of signs and symptoms even those that seem unrelated to your main complaint.  Through treating a pattern instead of a condition your main complaint will improve along with all of the issues surrounding and preceding it.

Due to these diagnostic tools, Chinese Medicine can treat conditions before they arise – before the point that you would be able to provide a western diagnosis.  This is often illustrated to patients when we work backwards through their medical history and can begin to see the formation of their current issues.  In fact, the healing process of many conditions often goes through stages which are similar to the development of their current condition.

Often times as I am discussing acupuncture with other people they will say things like “I’d love to try it, but there is nothing wrong with me”, or more simply, “I’m fine”.  What they usually mean is that they don’t have a “condition”.  Everyone realizes that they have some issues, pains that come and go, sleep that is better or worse at times, moods that go up and down — nothing serious, just relatively minor issues.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, however, those minor issues are plenty to work with and often when people come in just for “stress” or “relaxation” they find that other issues change – some they were not really aware of, or didn’t really think too much about.  Some people think it’s normal to have a headache once a week, or not sleep well a couple nights a week, or to have bad menstrual cramps every month, etc.  These minor issues, however, speak to our own personal view of what it means to be “well”.

In Chinese history there are stories where the village doctor was only paid when all of the villagers were “well”.  So if people were sick the doctor would not be paid until they were better.  If the villagers were continually sick then the doctor would most likely be out of a job at some point!  What a different viewpoint to look at the role of medicine in our lives and our use for it on our path to wellness.

From a wellness point of view there are always avenues of improvement – some in ways that people don’t often think about.  When you wake up do you need coffee to get going or do you feel well and rested, is your energy stable throughout the day, are your moods appropriate and balanced, when you eat do you enjoy it and feel well afterwards or do you have a variety of symptoms like heartburn, bloating, etc.  They are minor issues now and may continue to be so for quite some time.  But all of these and more are treatable at this point and treatment will stop these imbalances before they become deeper patterns in your body and ultimately conditions that can be given a western diagnosis.

Of course, these arguments also hold true for living well now with our emotions, diets, lifestyles – all aspects of our lives and doing what we can to improve those.  We do not know what the future holds for us, so it is better to do what we can now when times are relatively easy and things are going well for us than when we are sick and will have a hard time to do what is necessary to help us heal.  Acupuncture is but one part of this equation, but its use in relatively good times can greatly increase the chances that your wellness continues and that your experience of what it means to be well becomes more of an upward moving target than simply the absence of illness.  Now, then, is the time to work on whatever issues you have and work towards higher states of wellness.

Submitted by Chad Dupuis Yin Yang House