Community Acupuncture for Depression & Anxiety

by Stef Cordes and Lisa Baird

If you struggle with a low mood, depression or anxiety, you are definitely not alone. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 8% of Canadians will suffer from a major depressive disorder in their lifetime, and anxiety disorders affect 5% of the population. We suspect that those numbers are much higher, as stigma and a lack of public awareness of mental health prevents a lot of people from recognizing the state of their mental well-being and getting the support that they may need. It’s estimated that as many as 49% of people who report having suffered from depression or anxiety have never seen a doctor about this problem. Mental health stigma (which we’ve addressed before on our blog) presents a significant and potentially dangerous barrier to people seeking support with depression & anxiety. The nature of depression & anxiety alone make it hard to seek out help.

Many experiences can cause depression and anxiety. A traumatic event, hormonal shifts, bereavement, chronic pain, prolonged lack of sleep, and living with oppression are some of the things that can trigger or aggravate mild to severe depression as well as anxiety. Whatever the cause(s), community acupuncture can help.

How can community acupuncture help?

From fight-or-flight to rest-and-digest

The most common side effect of acupuncture treatment is deep relaxation. (This may be why acupuncture has a positive effect on almost any condition.) For many of us, the sympathetic nervous system is overdoing its job of stimulating the body’s fight-or-flight response. Acupuncture is remarkably effective in shifting the body into rest-and-digest mode, which has a powerful effect for easing anxiety. Acupuncture has also been found to increase endorphins, which are some of the hormones that make us feel good. People regularly leave our clinic with a sense of inner peace and lifted spirits.

Acupuncture alone can’t change the external factors that cause depression and anxiety. But it can help us to be more resilient, less overwhelmed, and better able to handle what life throws at us.

Relief from chronic pain

Physical pain is the number one complaint in acupuncture clinics, and it’s not surprising that depression and/or exhaustion are common secondary concerns for folks with chronic pain. Our patients get effective pain relief and deep rest at the same time, which reliably improves someone’s state of mind. Better sleep is a common side effect of being needled—people often report better quantity and quality of sleep even if they hadn’t previously told us about their sleep troubles. One of the most rewarding things about working at GCA is watching someone’s mood lift as their pain decreases.

Regulating hormones

A common cause of depression and anxiety is the emotional & physical turmoil sometimes associated with hormonal shifts. Acupuncture can do wonders for the symptoms of hormonal imbalance in people of all genders. Whether it be related to stages of life (puberty, post-partum, menopause, andropause or gender transition), PMS, or other hormone-related concerns, our recliners are a great place to get some much-needed sleep, some pain relief, a better handle on temperature regulation, renewed energy, and a little help with libido.

Support with trauma recovery

Sometimes depression and/or anxiety is underlaid with unresolved trauma. Acupuncture is a well-known and documented therapy for the impacts of traumatic stress. GCA is a trauma-informed clinic, which means that we recognize the widespread impact of trauma, we actively resist re-traumatizing people, and we try to restore a sense of safety. (You can read an earlier post on trauma-informed care here.)

While we are not counselors, community acupuncture is also an effective support during the emotional upheaval sometimes associated with addressing past traumas in therapy. (More than one of our regular patients has made the habit of scheduling an acunap after every counseling session.)

It’s important to note that although telling your story to someone you trust might be therapeutic—even necessary—you don’t need to tell us what happened, especially if you don’t feel ready to take that step with anyone yet. Although a trauma history is a complicated thing to live with, it’s not complicated for us to treat with needles.

Breaking isolation

Living with anxiety, depression, or any other chronic illness can be terribly isolating. Our group treatment room interrupts that isolation, and is a tangible reminder that you’re not alone. Several of our patients have commented that it’s been a blessing to have a place to go where they can be around other people in a healing, low-pressure environment. Our clinic is a place where you are contributing just with your presence.

If you have any questions about how community acupuncture can help you with depression or anxiety, please get in touch.

Patients receiving community acupuncture treatment (photo by Dave Hudson)
Patients receiving community acupuncture treatment (photo by Dave Hudson)

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