Anxiety disorders include generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post traumatic stress disorder (NICE 2007). They can be chronic and cause considerable distress and disability; if left untreated, are costly to the individual. As well as emotional symptoms such as worry, disturbed sleep, irritability and poor concentration, anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as sweating, nausea, diarrhoea, dry mouth, palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, cold hands, muscle tension and aches, trembling and twitching. Also, the symptoms of many physical conditions can become worse with stress, for example, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines and tension headaches, and back pain.
How can Acupuncture help? In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being. Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically benefit anxiety disorders and symptoms of anxiety by:
Acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the 'analytical' brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry.
Regulating levels of neurotransmitters (or their modulators) and hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA, neuropeptide Y and ACTH; hence altering the brain's mood chemistry to help to combat negative affective states.
Stimulating production of endogenous opioids that affect the autonomic nervous system. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, while acupuncture can activate the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the relaxation response.
Reversing pathological changes in levels of inflammatory cytokines that are associated with anxiety
Reversing stress-induced changes in behaviour and biochemistry
All information taken from the British Acupuncture Council website.