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May is Mental Health Awareness Month: End the Stigma

Acupuncture: It's not just for physical pain.

The “opioid crisis” has caused a lot of people to search for non-addictive sources of pain relief. Many of them find acupuncture. As its reputation for effective pain relief has grown, however, it seems to have overshadowed the myriad other conditions that benefit from acupuncture, including mental pain. In particular, acupuncture shows great promise in the treatment of depressive symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, these include the following:

1. Feeling sad, tearful, or hopeless

2. Irritability and outbursts of anger, sometimes disproportionate to the circumstances

3. Loss of interest in pleasurable activities, such as hobbies

4. Changes in sleep – insomnia or sleeping too much

5. Fatigue such that even small tasks seem to take a lot of effort

6. Changes in eating and weight, either loss or gain

7. Anxiety, agitation, restlessness

8. Slower mental processing, such as making decisions, and/or moving

9. Fixation on failures and/or self-blame

10. Recurring thoughts of death and/or suicide; suicide attempts

11. Inexplicable physical ailments such as headaches or back pain.

A number of non-pharmaceutical treatments have been lauded in recent years as successful, without the common side effects of drugs, or in treating depression that hadn’t responded to medications. These include, for example, stimulating your brain with magnetic fields or electronically stimulating the vagus nerve with an implanted electrical device. This latter example is what gets me excited about using electroacupuncture in ears (yup, that’s right: ears) to treat these mental health symptoms. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body and controls heart rate and self-soothing, among other things, because it's a major player in your fight-flight-freeze mechanism. Conveniently, it is accessible in your ear. This has become a burgeoning area of research despite the challenges inherent in using a pharmaceutical research model to conduct acupuncture research. Nevertheless, it is promising and I have seen it work.

More routinely, many people find acupuncture to be calming (really, I swear some people even fall asleep with their needles in) and helpful with symptoms associated with anxiety. According to the Mayo Clinic these include:

1. Nervousness, restlessness

2. Doom, Panic

3. Increased heartrate (remember what the vagus nerve controls?)

4. Rapid breathing (yup, vagus nerve again – I am a huge fan of the vagus nerve, can you tell?)

5. Sweating/Trembling

6. Weakness, fatigue

7. Worry-clouded thinking

8. Sleep difficulties

9. Gastrointestinal (GI tract) problems (you guessed it, vagus nerve here too)

10. Urges to avoid anxiety triggers.

Research in this area is showing great promise as well. So, yes, acupuncture is wonderful for treating physical pain. It’s also amazing for some common types of mental pain too. If you or a loved one suffer with one of these conditions, know that you are not alone and consider acupuncture as an option to help.

Acorn Acupuncture is open, with enhanced disinfecting, distancing, and mask-wearing protocols, if this sounds like it could help you gain some peace call 360 999 1683.


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