Acupuncture and Anxiety

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Acupuncture shows some potential to treating some forms of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). There have been numerous studies on the impact of acupuncture on anxiety and a recent report published in CNS Neuroscience indicates that research has shown positive outcomes, which is good news for individuals who do not want, or can't, use traditional treatment methods such as medication. [1]

Similar findings were published in 2007. In this report, 12 different studies were reviewed and "Positive findings were reported for acupuncture in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder or anxiety neurosis but there is currently insufficient research evidence for firm conclusions to be drawn." [2]

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a Chinese medicine which works to promote natural healing. Needles, heat or electrical stimulation are used at precise points on the body based on your channels of energy. According to Chinese explanations, the needles unblock obstructions in your energy channels and help to correct imbalances in your body. Modern scientific explanations believe that acupuncture works by stimulating your nervous system and releasing chemicals into your muscles, spinal cord and brain, triggering additional chemicals and hormones to help the body regulate itself.

How Does Acupuncture Help Anxiety?

Acupuncture is a holistic medicine, treating mind, body and spirit. Dr. Carol Morton, an acupuncturist, explains:

Acupuncture seeks to address body, mind, emotions and spirit. It is a holistic medicine whose 5000 year old roots began in China. It is often accompanied by herbology, diet, energy-cultivation exercises and life-style counseling. The goal is to create harmony within ourselves and between ourselves and the world. It is understood that "intellect" and "feeling" reside in all the cells of the body. If a person is depressed, Chinese medicine understands this as the result of deficient or stagnant energy, or imbalance of yin and yang (the two polar opposite forces of which all things are comprised). This imbalance can take many forms, and is ultimately discerned by the acupuncturist through an ongoing evaluation process which encompasses observation of posture, gait, demeanor, skin tone, brightness of eyes, voice, smell, tongue and pulse diagnosis, palpation and asking about symptoms and history. [3]

According to a study completed at the Yale University of Medicine, acupuncture may help to release serotonin, one of the chemicals in the brain thought to play a role in both anxiety and depression. Researchers found that acupuncture had a calming effect on participants, with feelings of reduced anxiety beginning in as little as 30 minutes after treatment. The study also showed that acupuncture may be helpful at reducing acute anxiety episodes, such as preoperative anxiety, flying anxiety or stage fright. [4]

Finding an Acupuncturist

Licensing requirements for acupuncturists can vary from state to state. You should check with the medical licensing board in your state to find out the requirements for your area. Once you have done that, make sure any practitioner you are considering is licensed to practice this type of medicine.

In addition, you may want to discuss the following:

  • How will the acupuncturist communicate with your medical doctor? Is he or she willing to act as a "partner" in your overall health care?

  • What type of treatment does he recommend and why is this treatment recommended?

  • Does the acupuncturist discuss your general health and life questions? Because acupuncture is a holistic medicine and seeks to treat the whole person, your practitioner should not limit discussions and treatment to only the condition he is treating.

  • Are all needles single-use and disposable? Are needles ever used more than once?

  • If herbs or supplements are prescribed/suggested, are there any potential interactions with your current medications?

You may also want to check with your insurance company to find out if your treatment is covered. If not, discuss the cost of treatment with the acupuncturist so you can decide if this is a treatment you can afford.

For more information on acupuncture:


[1] "Acupuncture for Anxiety," 2012, April, N.Errington-Evans, CNS Neuroscience, Vol. 4, Pages 277-284

[2]"Acupuncture for Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders-ASystematic Literature Review," 2001, Jun 25, K. Pilkington, G. Kirkwood, H.Rampes, M. Cummings, J. Richardson, Acupuncture Medicine (1-2) 1-10

[4] Auricular Acupuncture: A Potential Treatment for Anxiety, 2001, Feb, Shu-Ming Wang, M.D., Zeev N. Kain, M.D., Anesthesia and Analgesia, International Anesthesia Research Society

[3] "Can Acupuncture Treat Depression and Anxiety?" Date Unknown, Carol Morton L.Ac., LCSW,

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.