About Lynn

lynn jaffeeLynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of the book, Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health, a clear and concise explanation of Chinese medicine for the lay person. She is co-author of the book, The BodyWise Woman, a personal health manual for physically active women and girls. Read more about Lynn...

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Acupuncture for Panic Attacks

Anyone who has ever had a panic attack knows how scary it can be.  First, the attacks seem to come out of nowhere—unexpected and unprovoked.  Second, the thought of having another one in the future can produce disabling anxiety.

In the throes of your first panic attack, you’re sure you’re dying right here and now, and for good reason.  The symptoms of a panic attack can include a rapid or pounding heart, chest tightness, shortness of breath, dizziness, paralyzing anxiety, sweating, shaking, and hot flashes.  If you’ve ever had a panic attack, it’s clear—you don’t want to experience another.

So what’s happening during a panic attack?  Your body is experiencing the fight or flight response, but on steroids.  Your adrenal glands are pumping out hormones, including adrenaline, and the physical sensation of overwhelming fear is similar to being in sudden and immediate danger.

There are a number of theories as to why people suffer from panic attacks.  There may be a hereditary component, and triggers may include a major life transition, illness, stress, and medications that increase activity in the brain related to fear reactions.

In Chinese medicine, there are three organ systems that are related to panic attacks; the Heart, Spleen, and Kidneys.  The Heart is home to the Shen, or the spirit, according to Chinese theory.  Its function is similar to the brain in Western thinking.  As such, the Heart is the home to consciousness, memory, emotions, and thinking.  Whenever someone suffers from any kind of emotional upset or condition, the Heart is always involved. 

The Chinese Spleen is an organ system of digestion.  It sifts and sorts what has been ingested, takes what is useful and turns it into nutrients, and gets rid of what is not needed.  While the Spleen primarily digests foods, it also plays a role in the sifting and sorting of ideas.  The emotion associated with the Spleen is worry—essentially, not being able to sort through and let go of unnecessary ideas.  Worry is a kind of unhealthy rumination.  When it gets out of control, worry can produce anxiety and fear—the foundation of panic attacks.

Finally, the Chinese Kidney also plays a role in panic attacks in two ways.  First, the emotion related to the Kidney is fear, which is the underlying component of panic.  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.  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 panic attacks.  An acupuncturist would work by first calming your Shen, relieving anxiety, and minimizing stress.  This is an effective first line of defense, as research has documented the positive effects acupuncture has on brain chemistry.  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 panic attacks by nourishing your Spleen and restoring your Kidney health.  Beyond acupuncture, you may prescribed an herbal formula, some dietary suggestions, and strategies for stress relief.

Finally, some practical advice if you suffer from panic attacks:

-Realize that your body cannot sustain this mega-fight or flight response for more than a few minutes.  It will pass.

-When you’re having a panic attack, you might think the best thing to do is sit down, relax, and let it pass.  However, if you get up and move around, go for a walk, do some jumping jacks, your body will metabolize the adrenaline faster.

-Avoid caffeinated drinks and any other foods that you think might trigger an attack.

– In almost every instance, stressful situations or circumstances are at the core of anxiety and panic conditions.  Do what it takes to get your stress under control.  Take regular walks, meditate, go fishing, take a Yoga class, play video games, change your circumstances, or whatever else it takes for you to eliminate stress.

-Seriously consider acupuncture.  It can be a very safe, effective, drug-free way to eliminate anxiety and panic attacks.

9 comments to Acupuncture for Panic Attacks

  • Without a doubt, this Panic Attacks article is really the latest on this deserving topic. I agree with your conclusions and am eagerly look forward to your future updates. Just saying thanks will not just be enough, for the extraordinary clarity in your writing. I will at once grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates. Gratifying work and much success in your business endeavors!

    Hey Jay, thanks for your comments. I think it’s really important for people to know that Chinese medicine can be an effective alternative to meds for anxiety. More on this topic coming. LJ

  • maria

    I tried accupuncture for my panic attacks and it made it WORSE! I’m not sure what happened but it unleased a new wave of panic I never experienced before and the accupuncturist offered no explanation or relief.
    I am worse now than i was before I tried accupuncture.
    why is this?

  • Lynn Jaffee

    I’ve had that happen a couple of times with my patients–usually during the first treatment or two. Sometimes something new like acupuncture can cause a little anxiety until you’re comfortable with it. My solution is to stay in the treatment room during the entire treatment when I’m working with someone who suffers from panic attacks.

    Occasionally, a patient will have something called a healing crisis, in which they get worse for a little while before they begin to get better. I have found that those people who stick with it will get better in the long term.

  • I’ve personally dealt with panic attacks my whole life. It started when I was just a child and I’ve had to cope with them since then. I finally found a solution that has helped me get them done once and for all. I will tell you that it wasn’t quick or easy, but after a while I was able to finally get rid of them. I’m no longer dealing with them and its like I’ve started a new life not dealing with panic attacks. I also saw a Dr. Oz special a few days ago, sometimes it isn’t a panic attack that is the root of the problem, I’d also recommend talking to your doctor. Good luck!

  • Lynn Jaffee

    I agree, you should do everything possible to get panic attacks under contol. Acupuncture in only one tool. And, yes, the root of your panic attacks can be more than just anxiety–anything from diet to hormonal imbalances can cause them.

  • Lynn Jaffee

    Breathing techniques and meditation are both good ways to slow things down and decrease your anxiety. Way to go.

  • Linda

    I’ve had 3 sessions in 10 days (last one this morning) I experienced a “rushed” panic attack,on my second visit, realizing I had fallen into a deep relaxation and then was able to quickly recover.

    I can’t believe how wonderful I feel. The relief is amazing. I’ve had asthma for over 40 years and the steroids and ventolin are too hard to manage. My skin has errupted for the last 6 years. So has the introduction of panic attacks.

    Not sure how this works for all individuals but I am a believer. will continue.

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