Acupuncture and medication
Studies consistently show that acupuncture is as effective as, or more effective than medication for anxiety and depression, without the harmful side effects.
Many people use acupuncture to avoid the need for antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. Others find that their medication is more effective when combined with acupuncture, and that acupuncture reduces its negative side-effects. Some people use acupuncture to help manage their emotions when withdrawing from medication.
When you become stressed, your sympathetic nervous system is activated, putting you into 'fight-or-flight' mode. When you experience stress over a sustained period of time, your nervous system can get 'stuck' in fight-or-flight mode and you become unable to relax.
Acupuncture activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which opposes your sympathetic nervous system. This 'turns off' the fight-or-flight response, enabling you to feel calm and relaxed.
Acupuncture helps you to relax by deactivating the 'analytical' brain, which is responsible for worry and anxiety. It also acts on parts of the brain that reduce sensitivity to emotional stress, so that you feel less stressed.
Managing stress-related conditions
Many people find that acupuncture for relaxation helps them to manage other conditions that are affected by stress. These include insomnia, back pain, chronic pain, headache, irritable bowel syndrome, menopausal symptoms, migraines, premenstrual syndrome and urinary incontinence.
Acupuncture can increase positive feelings and produce a sense of wellbeing by regulating brain chemicals that affect mood, including serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA, neuropeptide Y and ACTH.
Depression is often associated with the way that different parts of your brain interact with each other when it is at rest. This interaction is called the 'default mode network'. A study (Dhond 2007) has shown that acupuncture can change the default mode network, and so may help to treat this aspect of depression.