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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Names and identifying details have been changed on any person described in these posts to protect their identity.

Why Acupuncture Works for Stress

Jessica is a self-described desk monkey who works in a cubicle farm.  Her job is boring, but it pays well.  Jessica has to put up with a really annoying co-worker and a very demanding boss who doesn’t appreciate her talent or hard work.  She’s been looking for another job, but in this economy, Jessica isn’t optimistic about finding her dream position, so she plugs away at a job she can barely tolerate.

Meg is an elementary school teacher.  She’s been a single mom for over twenty years.  Meg’s grown son struggles with an addiction to pain killers, and as a result has a difficult time holding down a job.  Her son just moved back in with Meg for financial reasons, and he is resentful, unappreciative, and insulting to her.  Meg dreads coming home from work each day and facing her son.

Paul owns a small business that employs about two dozen people.  During the past couple of years, his business has been struggling to survive.  It seems that the economy will never recover, and Paul has had to lay off some of his employees.  He lays awake at night trying to figure out how to keep his business going.

These three very different people have one thing in common:  they’re all ringing the stress bell.  For very different reasons, Jessica, Meg, and Paul are all struggling to cope with the events and situations that life has thrown at them.  They are also people who have been helped with their stress by seeking out acupuncture.

Before trying acupuncture, especially for something like stress, most people want to know exactly how some needles stuck in your body can actually help them feel less stressed out and better able to cope.  This is a fair question, and can be answered on a couple of levels.

First, according to Chinese medicine, stress causes your energy to become blocked.  While you may think that talking about energy is the stuff of mood rings, Earth shoes, and beaded curtains, remember that every cell in your body produces energy.  Adherents to Chinese medicine simply believe that this energy moves throughout your body in pathways.  When you become ill or have uncomfortable symptoms, it’s because your energy is either not flowing smoothly or it has become depleted.  In the case of stress, you feel seriously uptight and tense, and this is because your energy has become blocked.

A practitioner of Chinese medicine can alleviate the symptoms of stress by manipulating your energy through acupuncture.  Basically, the energy in your pathways rises to the surface of your body at acupuncture points.  By inserting acupuncture needles at selected points, an acupuncturist can manipulate your energy to move more smoothly and help you feel less strung out.

On another level, acupuncture can help relieve your stress simply by the nature of an acupuncture treatment.  Your practitioner spends a fair amount of time talking with you not only about your symptoms, but also your lifestyle, sleep, diet, and other details pertaining to your health.  Then, once the treatment begins, you lie on a massage-type table or sit in a comfortable recliner and relax while the needles do their work.  Usually the lights are dimmed and there is relaxing music playing.  This combination of really being heard and the relaxing treatment has been described by my patients as a “mini vacation” and “the highlight of my week”.  The simple mechanics of the treatment work to relieve your stress.

From a Western biomedical standpoint, research indicates that acupuncture affects your brain chemistry in a positive way.  Researchers have found that one benefit of acupuncture is that it raises the level of endorphins, those feel-good chemicals, in your brain.  This explains the mellow feeling many patients experience after an acupuncture treatment.  The feeling can last for hours, and the effect of a treatment may last days or even weeks.  Frequently, my patients tell me that after their treatment, the people, events, or circumstances that normally put them over the top just don’t seem to matter that much.

If the fabric of your life includes unrelenting stress, there is a solution that doesn’t involve Yoga classes, prescription drugs, learning how to meditate, or lots of deep breathing.  It’s called acupuncture; and it’s a natural and effective to get you off the stress treadmill and back to being your calm self.

4 comments to Why Acupuncture Works for Stress

  • Another great post Lynn, keep up the good work!

  • Lynn Jaffee

    Thanks, Jennifer. I’m loving your post about face reading Charlie Sheen! http://www.tree.com/health/blog-blog/archive-2011-05-07-a-chinese-face-reading-for-charlie-sheen.aspx

  • Thanks Lynn. I’m an acupuncturist in Manhattan, and so I definitely not a stranger to treating many people (I treat mostly women) for stress. I’m always interested in the ways in which other practitioners, including massage therapists and bodyworkers etc. describe how their modality treats stress.

    For instance, a good friend of mine who is a massage therapist describes to her patients the difference between the body’s sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The “fight or flight” mode, or sympathetic nervous system, is in dominance when we are stressed; our eyes dilate, our breathing quickens, our blood vessels contract, our heart rate quickens, we produce adrenaline, our muscles contract. In contrast, massage helps deepen breathing, dilate blood vessels, decrease the production of adrenaline and increase oxytocin levels, etc., putting the body into the “rest and digest” mode, allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to gain dominance.

    I like that you use the example that “every cell in your body produces energy”. Describing Qi can be somewhat of a tough one to potential patients who are maybe skeptical about the idea of “energy” that moves. Sometimes putting energy in the context of something more Western or medical can help. Our cells produce energy = basic metabolism. This is what regenerates our body’s circulatory, muscular, skeletal systems, you name it.

    Thanks for the simple reminder!

    Melani Bolyai, L.Ac.
    http://www.NaturalQi.com

  • Lynn Jaffee

    I agree Melani, sometimes how you package your explanation makes a big difference. In talking about stress, we all know that it feels bad, but when I get really specific as to why it’s so harmful physiologically, my patients pay a little more attention, and try a little harder to change the situations that are creating stress.