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Veronica Palmer-Jones, Registered Acupuncturist

One of the most common mental health concerns I see in the clinic and one of the most

common reasons people seek mental health care. I personally used to have debilitating anxiety

so it is something I love to treat as I know how much life opens up when we can turn the dial

down on anxiety.

In the initial intake, acupuncturists will always ask about your emotional state and stressors.

Even if you’re coming in for pain or something seemingly unrelated, emotional stressors can be

a huge cause or contributing factor to dysfunction in the body. In contrast to the dominant

understanding western medicine has had of health for many years, which has been to parse out

individual aspects of the body and see them as largely unrelated to one another,

Chinese medicine sees the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical aspects of a person as

inextricably linked. It’s not that there is a mind-body connection, it is that there actually is no

separation between mind/body/spirit. Mental/emotional issues take up residence in the body,

and bodily symptoms can cause emotional distress as well.

Part of our line of questioning includes asking about where you feel anxiety in your body. Many

people feel tension, tightness or pressure in their chest. Sometimes it is a lump in the throat, a

flushed face or rapid heartbeat. For others, anxiety feels most present in their stomach or

presents as tension and tightness in our jaw or neck and shoulders. It’s very common that we

haven’t yet made the connection to what parts of the body we feel anxiety or how we would

describe those sensations, so don’t worry if you don’t have a clear answer to this question!

We may also ask how anxiety presents in the mind. This could be ruminating thinking (chewing

over the same thoughts again and again), catastrophic (worst case scenario) thinking, mental

restlessness, self-doubt. Anxiety can be mild or severe, up to and including panic attacks.

It also may present socially. This could be feelings of discomfort around new people or big

groups of people. It could be avoidance of going in public or fear of public speaking. Of course

it’s also important to recognize that it is okay to feel nervous or anxious in certain situations.

Public speaking, taking a test, big life events, etc. are examples of some occasions when

nervousness makes sense and is a healthy emotional expression.

Anxiety typically presents as states of fear and worry. It is also commonly seen alongside

depression. Overthinking, often related to repetitive thoughts, relates to the Lung energy and

worry (often worse case scenario thinking) relates more to the Spleen. These patterns are most

closely related to Spleen qi deficiency, so supporting the Spleen is often a key part of treating

anxiety. According to Giovanni Maciocia, anxiety is typically caused by deficiency (especially of

Blood and yin), pathogenic factors (such as Fire and qi stagnation) or a combination of

deficiency and deficient heat. Your acupuncturist will determine which TCM organs are affected

and the relevant approach to treatment.

Chinese medicine treatment is based on recognizing patterns. There are many different ways

anxiety can present in the body, so by asking questions, observing your tongue, face and body,

and feeling your pulse, we will determine which pattern of anxiety is present. That helps us create a treatment and treatment plan, as well as making lifestyle recommendations. For

example, someone with mild anxiety and someone who experiences daily panic attacks are

displaying different patterns and therefore would receive different approaches to treatment.

When doing an intake we will ask many different questions so we can tailor a treatment that is

unique and effective for you.

A lot of times I find that treating anxiety means turning down the dial on it. It doesn’t necessarily

mean it goes away entirely forever, but that it shows up more mildly and in ways that don’t

impact your life as drastically. There is a huge difference between frequent panic attacks and

mild situational anxiety, as anyone with anxiety can tell you! As your treatment plan goes on, we

check in along the way to see where anxiety may be improving as evidenced by fewer or less

intense symptoms and greater emotional calm and adaptability.


Keeping a good diet and improving digestion. Blood deficiency can stem from Spleen

deficiency, which can be represented by poor diet, difficulty absorbing nutrients and loose stool.

Eating nutritious whole foods, including leafy greens, meat and bone broth (if you consume

animal products) and supporting gut health will be an important lifestyle consideration. I will

have another blog post coming out about ways to improve your digestion so stay tuned for that.

For women and people who menstruate. Regulating your period, especially if you have heavy

periods. Losing large volumes of blood each month contributes to blood deficiency in the body.

Red date, gojij berry and nettle tea can be helpful for anxiety stemming from deficiency.

Nettles are rich in iron and vitamin C, which is helpful for Blood deficiency. Goji berries

strengthen qi and blood and red dates tonify the Spleen.

Counselling, especially somatic experiencing, can be helpful for expressing emotions, having a

witness for your experiences and getting tools for self-regulation. Repressed emotions are a

large cause of dysfunction in the body in TCM. My counsellor said the number one issue she

sees people for is anxiety, so never worry that your problems are too small or insignificant to

receive help. We all deserve support no matter what we are going through.

Craniosacral therapy is a great modality that can help calm and regulate the nervous system. I

am currently studying craniosacral therapy and often include it with my treatments. Acupuncture

and craniosacral are very complimentary, and craniosacral is a nice alternative if needles aren’t

your thing.

Movement. Movement / exercise is very helpful to keep Liver qi moving. The Liver has many

functions in TCM and by keeping the Liver qi happy and in motion, we support the other organs

and their functions. Without movement, there is stagnation. I highly recommend finding types of

movement you actually enjoy doing, so you like and look forward to the experience and aren’t

dreading or avoiding it. Remember, walking is often overlooked as a wonderful form of exercise.

Yoga. Yoga is an amazing practice that goes far beyond just physical exercise. It is a wonderful

practice of uniting body and mind. Yin yoga, where postures are held for a few minutes, help to

signal safety to the nervous system and are generally quite calming and peaceful. This practice

of being in your body is very helpful yet might be uncomfortable at first. There are many places

to practice yoga in person, as well as online resources. My favourite is Yoga with Adriene, who

posts free videos on youtube. You can search her channel for almost any type of yoga, like

yoga for grief, yoga for upper back, bedtime yoga, etc. Don’t underestimate the benefit of even a

10 minute practice!

Breathwork. There are many types of breathwork that are helpful for people with anxiety. Box

breathing (inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, pause for 4

seconds, repeat) is a great way to signal safety to the nervous system. A physiological sigh

(where you inhale once, then inhale again and then release the breath) is a quick and easy way

to calm your body and mind. I like breathwork because it is a tool you can take with you and

access anytime you need it.

Testing by a doctor or naturopath. Sometimes there are underlying mineral or nutrient

deficiencies that can contribute to anxiety, like low iron or ferritin levels. Naturopathic testing

seems to be typically more in depth but it is helpful to ask your doctor for testing to know if there

are any areas where supplementation is helpful. This can be remedied through supplements or

through making dietary changes to address any deficiencies.

Medication. For many people, taking medication for anxiety is necessary and extremely helpful.

You can always work with both eastern and western medicine by being on medication as well as

receiving acupuncture. Remember that often medication doesn’t have to be forever. I have

worked with multiple patients who have felt comfortable to slowly wean off their anti-anxiety

medication as we have worked on improving anxiety.

Acupuncture! Regular acupuncture along with associated lifestyle changes can be hugely

beneficial in the treatment of anxiety, as well as being a holistic treatment that can address

other areas of your health as well. It is a great practice to promote unification of your body, mind

and spirit, as well as supporting body awareness and literacy so you can identify patterns in

your own experience.

Veronica Palmer-Jones is a licensed acupuncturist in the Comox Valley, British Columbia. She loves working with mental health concerns through her online articles and at the clinic, The Remedy Room, on Cliffe Avenue, Courtenay. Call for an appointment at 250-800-7738.

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