As an acupuncturist, I treat a variety of things but at least 40 % of my patients come for assistance with anxiety and depression or both. These two are increasingly common and often described as a modern epidemics. Yet they are written about in ancient Chinese medicine texts from over 2000 years ago. Even then, when life was less complicated and still deeply connected to nature, heartache, grief, and worry still affected us. A sophisticated mind-body connection is part of our DNA.
I’m not generally a quote type but this succinct leveler is attributed to Budha ‘ We all suffer the wound that is existence.’
We tend to ignore these ‘wounds’ and miss the signs that things are getting out of balance. We are not taught how to prevent or manage these feelings especially when we surround ourselves with constant distractions potentially as a way to avoid what is really going on.
Society has become competitive and constantly comparative. There is stress from careers, identity, family, keeping on top of social media and binge-watching, and our obsession with being busy and telling everyone how busy we are. We operate through screens and are no longer in tribes. We are losing connection with each other and ourselves. We dismiss warning signs/feelings and just ‘push through.’ Most people go for the old ‘circular pattern of avoidance’ trick. As it happens, a really ineffective and somewhat meta thing to do.
“Keeping up With the Joneses” has never rung more true. I prefer keeping up with Bridget Jones than those Kardashian types. Perhaps new social norms that have increased vapid and competitive new styles of personal branding combined with excessive social media is how anxiety has increased dramatically. It is reported that 1 in 8 Americans suffers from anxiety (2018).
Modern life does not equip us to deal with the overload of tasks and emotions. Instead, we attend another hen or stag do, 8 children’s birthday parties, cook a Sunday roast, do those excel spreadsheets on Saturday morning, drink too much in an attempt to relax, feel guilty about not calling your Mum, stress about not doing the excel spreadsheet, worry about the climate, eat a donut, go to bed with Sunday night dread, sleep badly- stagger out of bed and press repeat.
Slowing down and listening to what our body is really telling us, seems to be a thing of the past. ‘Self-care’ is a new buzz word but I’m not sure many people are really actively doing it. If we pay attention and acknowledge things are not harmonious, the faster we can deal with it.
Signs of Anxiety
A feeling of foreboding and dread
Thoughts speed up or slow down whilst feeling anxious
Rapid Heart Palpitations
Altered bowel movements
Easy to startle
Signs of Depression
Inability to feel enjoyment
Poor attention and concentration
Lowered energy and tiredness
Ideas of guilt and worthlessness
Loss of appetite
Poor sleep usually waking early
Inability to stop crying
Both anxiety and depression can be triggered by a single or series of events ( a break-up, a bereavement, job loss, a bullying situation, stress, inherited from family dynamics ) or be part of a person’s genetic make-up. The way they present in each person can be unique. The list of symptoms above is a guideline for a diagnosis starting point
Chinese Meridians Relation to the Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety
In Chinese medicine (CM) the worry part of anxiety and depression is linked to overuse of the Spleen and ‘churning thoughts. The restlessness felt in your heart with a breakup is treated through this channel. Heartache is a real physical thing not just a concept.
Depression is felt in the lungs: a sinking feeling or mild tightness across the chest, creating a downward emotion.
The liver is also compromised when anger has not been released ( yes, all that repressed anger we have seething inside like a cauldron we never deal with out of ‘politeness’). The anger that is wanted out of the body has no vehicle of escape so turns and buries itself inside. The liver, in CM, is where we get upward motion from and when compromised things tend to sink and stagnate producing low mood and motivation.
How Acupuncture Treats Holistically
I tailor treatments to the individual but Five Element Acupuncture has really effective protocols that help reconnect the body and the mind starting the journey back to balance.
Examples of incredible points for calming the heart are Yintang, Shenman and Ren 14, and Ren 4 together. “Heavenly Pivot’ St 25 and ‘Great Horizontal’ Sp 15 provide a centre when someone is feeling all over the place .
‘Du 20- Governor Vessel lifts the spirit and clears the mind. ( If only I knew this in my teenage years of constant love angst....)
Depending on how the patients’ symptomatic pattern was presenting I would use the channels mentioned above Spleen, Lung, Liver, and Heart to keep things moving. I'd use the kidney to address the fear associated with both conditions.
The studies that show acupuncture is effective in treating these conditions are listed here.
The Good News
On a positive note, these conditions can become completely manageable or resolved entirely. There are many ways we can look at addressing the issue and a list of other resources is linked here.
Society is starting to admit to one another that this is, INCREDIBLY common and the associated stigma is easing. Hugely successful people have talked about their time in this place. Celebrities, as varied as Bruce Springsteen, The Rock, Brad Pitt, Beyonce, Emma Stone, Adele, JK Rowling and Stephen Fry, have spoken openly about anxiety and depression.
Talking to people (friends, family, a professional) is widely recommended as a place to start. Also, consider acupuncture as a way to reconnect to yourself it’s old wisdom for a modern epidemic.