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Acupuncture for Anxiety Disorder?

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: January 1, 2020


acupuncture and anxiety disorder image

Is acupuncture an effective treatment for anxiety disorder?

Anxiety disorder can create a multitude of body-wide symptoms. Some people experience intermittent symptoms whereas others have chronic symptoms that last 24/7 month after month and even year after year.

It’s little wonder so many anxiety disorder sufferers are desperate to find ways of relieving their symptoms.

While many people take medication in an attempt to alleviate their anxiety symptoms, medication often produces unwanted side effects. Sometimes these side effects are worse than the anxiety symptoms themselves.

Moreover, in many cases, medication doesn’t completely eliminate anxiety symptoms so people are left looking for better symptom-management options.

Acupuncture, the insertion of needles into pressure points on the body, is an ancient practice that many claim is an effective treatment for anxiety disorder.

Is acupuncture an effective treatment for anxiety disorder?

There is some research to suggest acupuncture can reduce anxiety symptoms for some people. However, more research is needed as existing research is scant.

For instance, according to one study:[1]

The systematic review of the clinical research was focused on published clinical trials (controlled, randomized and non-randomized) regarding the treatment of anxiety with acupuncture.

Only clinical trials where anxiety was treated as the therapeutic target, and not as a secondary measurement or being associated with other health condition or disease, were considered.

Two authors extracted the data independently and exclusion and inclusion criteria were set. The search rendered 1135 papers addressing anxiety as a primary therapeutic target.

After review, 13 papers were identified to match exclusion and inclusion criteria and were selected for this analysis.

This study concluded:

“Overall, there is good scientific evidence encouraging acupuncture therapy to treat anxiety disorders as it yields effective outcomes, with fewer side effects than conventional treatment. More research in this area is however needed.”

Another study,[2] which had similar difficulty finding quality research, noted:

“Overall, there is a lack of high-quality research on the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating anxiety and depression in women.”

This study found some people benefited but also noted more research is required.

This study also concluded:

“Many acupuncture studies lack important quality measures, such as true randomization, parallel study designs, and inclusion of lost subjects in statistical analyses. Lack of double-blinding has historically been one of the most common design flaws in acupuncture trials…”

Painful injection points was the most common complaint about acupuncture.


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The verdict

Based on the small amount of quality research, it’s difficult to determine the efficacy of acupuncture for anxiety disorder.

There are some practical takeaways, however:

1. Anxiety disorder is caused by underlying factors

Anxiety is caused by apprehensive behavior.

Anxiety disorder is caused by overly apprehensive behavior. Overly apprehensive behavior is motivated by underlying factors.

Anxiety disorder can be overcome by identifying and successfully addressing anxiety disorder’s underlying factors.

When the cause of the problem (overly apprehensive behavior) is successfully addressed, the problem (anxiety disorder) and its symptoms are eliminated.

To effectively overcome anxiety disorder, the cause of the problem (anxiety’s underlying factors) need to be successfully identified and addressed.

Research has shown that good self-help information, therapy, and support is the most effective treatment for anxiety disorder.[3][4]

2. Alleviating anxiety symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve addressed the cause of anxiety disorder

Acupuncture only manages symptoms. Symptom management doesn’t address the cause of the problem.

For instance, anxiety stresses the body and a body that’s under stress can exhibit symptoms.

Therefore, anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress. They are called anxiety symptoms because overly apprehensive behavior is the main source of the stress that stresses the body, which then, creates symptoms.

To eliminate anxiety symptoms, we need to reduce the body’s stress and for a sufficient period for the body to recover from the adverse effects of chronic stress. As the body recovers, symptoms subside.

However, reducing stress doesn’t mean you’ve successfully addressed the cause of the anxiety problem but merely the symptoms of the problem.

As mentioned, to overcome anxiety disorder, we need to address the cause of the problem – anxiety’s underlying factors.

Successfully addressing anxiety’s underlying factors eliminates the problem (problematic anxiety) and the problem’s symptoms.

3. There are many natural ways to reduce anxiety symptoms

Since anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress, and reducing stress can eliminate anxiety symptoms, there are many natural ways to reduce stress and its symptoms.

Some people find acupuncture reduces stress, but so does massage, aromatherapy, expressing your artistic side, enjoying music, light to moderate exercise, etc.

Other natural stress-reducers include cutting back work hours, learning to live at a slower pace, adopting realistic expectations, increasing rest, regular deep relaxation, improving the quality of your relationships, improving self-esteem, increasing playtime, catnaps, going for a walk in the country, laughing, getting regular good sleep, socializing with good friends, eating a healthy diet, and so on. All of these natural activities can reduce stress.

4. Therapy

Therapy is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder and its symptoms. Therapy, especially delivered by professionally trained therapists who understand the many underlying factors that cause problems with anxiety, addresses the cause of the problem.

As we mentioned, when the cause of the problem is addressed, the problem and its symptoms are resolved.

Conclusion

Similar to many alternative anxiety disorder symptom management options, some people find acupuncture helpful in reducing anxiety symptoms, some find no benefit, and some people find it makes their symptoms worse.

For instance, in an online poll we conducted:

  • 52 percent said they found acupuncture helpful in reducing anxiety
  • 44 percent said acupuncture made no difference
  • 4 percent said acupuncture made their anxiety worse

If you are interested in trying acupuncture, we recommend talking with your doctor to see if it’s right for you. Then, use caution.

NOTE: If you are anxious about having needles or experiencing pain, acupuncture could increase your anxiety and symptoms.



The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.


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REFERENCES:

1. D, Amorim, et al. "Acupuncture and electroacupuncture for anxiety disorders: A systematic review of the clinical research." Complement Therapy In Clinical Practice, 31 May 2018.

2. Sniezek, David, and Siddiqui, Imran. "Acupuncture for Treating Anxiety and Depression in Women: A Clinical Systematic Review." Medical Acupuncture, June 2013.

3. Hofmann, Stefan G., et al. “The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Oct. 2012.

4. Leichsenring, Falk. “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy?” JAMA, American Medical Association, 10 Oct. 2017.

Image by Alterio Felines from Pixabay