Acupuncture for Anxiety: What You Need To Know

Acupuncture for Anxiety: What You Need To Know

Reviewed by:
Satveet Khela, DO
Staff Psychiatrist
at Talkiatry
August 29, 2023
In this article

When you’re living with a mental health condition, it can be hard to know what treatment options will help—especially since not every treatment option is appropriate for everyone with a particular condition.

For those living with an anxiety disorder, the most common mental health condition in the U.S., there’s a lot of claims about different treatments, medications, and procedures that could help you with your symptoms. Acupuncture—an over 3000-year-old modality from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)—is one treatment option you may have heard of. Proponents of acupuncture say it can treat a huge range of medical conditions, including anxiety. But how effective is it? We turned to our staff of board-certified staff psychiatrists for all the details.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is an ancient healing modality from Traditional Chinese Medicine. It involves the insertion of very thin needles at specific points in the body to balance and improve the flow of the body’s qi (pronounced “chee”), or energy/life force. The needles may also be manipulated with gentle electrical pulses, heat, or movement.  

According to some Western medicine practitioners, acupuncture is effective because the placement and manipulation of needles at these acupuncture points can stimulate nerves and boost production of the body’s natural painkillers.

Acupuncture is used to treat a range of conditions. Most commonly, it’s used to alleviate symptoms for pain-related conditions, but some proponents believe it may also be helpful for certain mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

Does acupuncture have potential benefits?  
Many people use acupuncture to find relief from chronic pain conditions, including migraines, arthritis, or even postoperative pain. Others use acupuncture to help with stress management.

Other uses for acupuncture include: infertility, asthma, fibromyalgia, addiction, the side effects of chemotherapy, digestive issues, sciatica and muscular issues, and certain neurological conditions.  


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Can acupuncture help with anxiety?

There is evidence to suggest that acupuncture can provide some relief from anxiety symptoms, including in those with a diagnosed anxiety disorder like generalized anxiety disorder. One meta-analysis determined that acupuncture can help reduce both physical and mental “anxious symptoms,” in those with anxiety disorders, including persistent worry and fear, and tension, pain, inability to relax, and rapid heart rate.  

Researchers are still exploring exactly why this is—one study suggests that acupuncture can affect the behavior of the central nervous system, including aspects of the autonomic nervous system, which controls various body functions like heart rate. The theory is that acupuncture may help regulate these automatic functions to keep you more calm and less anxious, particularly in people with dysregulating conditions like anxiety disorders.  

So, should you ditch the therapist's office or anti-anxiety medications in favor of acupuncture? Not exactly. While acupuncture can be a good treatment option in addition to medications or talk therapy, the benefits are limited, so acupuncture should never replace other treatment options completely. Anxiety disorders are complicated, and people living with anxiety often respond best to a combination of treatment options—for example, pairing medication with therapy.

If you’re interested in exploring acupuncture as a treatment option, chat with your doctor to see if it might be right for you.  

What are the potential side effects of acupuncture?

When performed by a reputable practitioner and licensed acupuncturist, acupuncture has very few side effects, although you should always get the OK from a medical provider before trying any new treatment.

Potential side effects include soreness and minor bleeding or bruising where the needles were inserted.  

People with certain bleeding disorders, fear of needles, taking certain medications, or with pacemakers may be best off avoiding acupuncture.

Is acupuncture for anxiety effective in the long run?

If your anxiety is caused by an underlying anxiety disorder, it’s important to seek out a clinical diagnosis and treatment plan from a qualified healthcare professional, like a psychiatrist. They will ensure you are not only treating the symptoms of your condition, but the causes, as well—which will help ensure more lasting relief.  

Once you’ve established a treatment plan for your anxiety disorder, you may consider adding acupuncture as a supplemental therapy if your care team thinks it’s appropriate.    

When is it best to seek professional support for anxiety?

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, but if your anxiety is severe enough that it’s regularly interfering with your daily life and overall quality of life—particularly if it’s out-of-proportion to the situation at hand—it’s best to seek out a professional diagnosis from a qualified healthcare professional. They can work with you to come up with a treatment plan that will get at the underlying cause(s) of your symptoms. If you want acupuncture to be a part of that treatment plan, you can discuss that with them.  

Nearly 30% of American adults will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, making them the most common type of mental health condition. Symptoms that may suggest your anxiety is caused by an underlying anxiety disorder include:

  • Excessive worry, persistent nervousness, or restlessness
  • Finding it difficult to control worry
  • A sense of impending doom
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms or upset
  • Rapid heart rate, sweating, or trembling
  • Trouble concentrating on anything but your worry or fear
  • Fatigue or sleep problems, including sleep disturbances and irritability
  • Panic attacks—intense, sudden episodes of extreme panic or fear that generally peak within a few minutes

To learn more about types of anxiety disorders and anxiety symptoms check out: Get Anxiety Treatment from an Online Psychiatrist


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Finding help with Talkiatry

If you’re struggling with anxiety, Talkiatry can help. With Talkiatry, you can see a psychiatrist from the comfort of your home, and you can schedule your first appointment in a matter of days. To get started, take our free online assessment, to see if Talkiatry is right for you and get matched with a psychiatrist.  

About Talkiatry

Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.        

The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

Sources

Acupuncture | Mayoclinic

Acupuncture and electroacupuncture for anxiety disorders: A systematic review of the clinical research | Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice

Effectiveness of acupuncture on anxiety disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials | Annals of General Psychiatry

Acupuncture Effect and Central Autonomic Regulation | Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine

What are Anxiety Disorders | American Psychiatric Association  

Anxiety Disorders | Mayoclinic  

Dr. Satveet Khela is a board certified physician specializing in adult psychiatry. She has been practicing since 2021.

In addition to focusing on medication management, Dr. Khela's practice also prioritizes a whole person approach, incorporating aspects of nutrition, lifestyle, mindfulness, and supportive or brief cognitive behavioral therapy into the treatment plan. Occasionally, Dr. Khela may believe that additional therapy is also needed and ask that you see a separate therapist to provide the best outcome.

Dr. Khela received her undergraduate degree from University of California Berkeley and her medical degree from A.T. Still University. She completed her residency at University of California San Francisco Fresno, where she served as chief resident in her final year. After completing her training, Dr. Khela worked with medically ill patient's with co-morbid psychiatric illnesses. Throughout her career, Dr. Khela has worked with a diverse set of patient in various stages of their lives.

Dr. Khela focuses on treating patients with anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar, OCD, and other mental health issues. She believes in empowering her patients to be active players in their treatment plans to facilitate the best care possible.

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