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Oriental Medicine for Anxiety Disorders

By: Vanessa Vogel Batt L.Ac. MSOM

The list of things that can stir up our anxieties is long and varied. If we look at a few officially-recognized phobias, starting with the letter "A", we have aerophobia, the fear of flying; astraphobia, the fear of thunder and lightning; and acrophobia, the fear of heights. These phobias merely scratch the surface. Luckily, acupuncture and Oriental medicine provide many solutions to treat patients experiencing everything from arachnophobia to zoophobia.

Sometimes anxieties pursue a patient with a daily relentlessness and tenacity, which may indicate this person suffers from a generalized anxiety disorder. Worry, overthinking, extreme pessimism, fear even in the absence of a fear-inducing situation, or indecision rule the day. Not only does quality of life take a nose-dive, but physical symptoms may arise—insomnia, bowel problems, and body twitches are a few examples.

According to the theory of acupuncture and Oriental medicine, anxiety can interfere with the body's normal flow of Qi. Qi refers to the most fundamental unit of energy, upon which is the basis for all life to exist. Intense sensations of anxiety or fear can force Qi to descend quite rapidly, or it may cause a sudden surge of upward energy.

In the case of descending energy, the energetic system of the kidneys sustains damage and becomes dysfunctional. Many of us can recognize that sinking feeling or paralysis when under duress. It's interesting to note that the kidneys are associated with winter, and this contraction of energy in the body mirrors the contraction of the environment during the coldest season. The plummet of Qi may even go so far as to cause an involuntary voiding of urine. The kidneys also share a relationship with the element of water.

On the flipside, anxiety may cause a sharp rise in Qi, with the possibility of a sudden gasp, wide-open eyes, and heart palpitations. In these cases, it may be an aspect of the pericardium—the tough, fibrous structure that surrounds and protects the heart—needing to be addressed.

The pericardium is known as the 'Heart Protector,' and its functions include safeguarding the heart from physical and emotional stress. To protect the heart, it may harden beyond an acceptable level and enter into a dangerous, anxiety-ridden state.

There are many more reasons besides a dysfunction with the pericardium or kidneys that may be implicated in the symptoms of anxiety; therefore, treatments can vary widely. However, there are some measures used in virtually all cases. For example, to activate a general sense of well-being and to calm the nervous system, specific acupuncture points on the ear and forehead can be utilized.

An acupuncture point on the forehead called Yin Tang, located right between the eyebrows, is always an excellent choice. This point is perfect for redirecting Qi to flow in the correct direction. Needling Yin Tang can reduce such symptoms as heart palpitations, shallow breathing, and release harmful, unproductive thoughts. It may even help a patient get to sleep more quickly or have a better quality rest.

Shen Men, an ear point revered for its ability to soothe the nervous system, is a beautiful option to mitigate all kinds of stresses and anxieties. It also has the added advantage of receiving ear beads. An ear bead is a tiny metal ball that adheres to the skin, much like a band-aid. The bead is gently stimulated by the patient as needed, making it an excellent tool for self-treatment.

Perhaps the warmth and comfort from moxibustion (moxa) treatment can calm the mind for a patient with generalized anxiety disorder. Moxa is a therapy that uses the heat produced from burning special herbs. The smoke penetrates the body, where it can do many things such as nourish blood and alleviate pain.

For many anxious patients, it is a pleasant way to improve their mental health and strengthen overtaxed adrenal glands. The medicinal smoke can be applied near acupuncture points known to increase gland energy, for instance, which is considered by acupuncture and Oriental medicine to be a function of the kidneys.

If you find yourself battling anxious feelings that are all too frequent, or if you're developing phobias that interfere with your ability to enjoy life consider integrating acupuncture and Oriental medicine into your wellness plan.

Contact a practitioner today to schedule an appointment and learn how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help you.

Source: Giovanni Maciocia. (2016). Fear and anxiety. Retrieved from

About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.

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