September 7, 2015
Anxiety is the term used to describe feelings of unease, worry and fear. It is a natural human experience; however when the feelings become more prevalent in our day to day life for a prolonged period of time it can lead to more serious health conditions such as high blood pressure (hypertension). Both anxiety and stress causes the body to release stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline which in turn can cause physical symptoms such as a pounding heart beat, palpitations, faster breathing, loss of appetite, needing to urinate more frequently, butterflies in the tummy and feeling sick. Psychological symptoms of generalised anxiety include restlessness, feeling ‘on edge’, irritability, excessive worry, a sense of dread and difficulty concentrating. Others may experience obsessive/ obtrusive thought patterns which are both unpleasant and exhausting.
In 2007 I was unfortunate enough to have my own experience of anxiety. I experienced my first panic attack whilst driving, it stopped me in my tracks and I had to pull over. I can picture it vividly, I was driving back to Kettering from Newcastle and a wave of bodily sensations came over me. I had difficultly breathing, my hands were clammy, i felt ‘detached’ from my body, I couldn't focus on the road as everything began to blur, I felt faint and extremely unsafe. I pulled over and called for help as I truly believed that I was experiencing a heart attack and managed to get home with the help of friends. I jumped in the car the very next day to experience the same sensations and the cycle repeated itself again and again until my driving became completely limited. At that time I worked in motorsport, can you imagine telling your 'racing driver boss' that you are scared to drive to work? Rapidly anxiety rippled through my life effecting every aspect of day to day living until I felt house bound and unrecognisable. The thought of socialising, taking a trip to the dentist, spending a night alone or even leaving the house filled me with dread.
This experience resulted in me trying many interventions, actually anything that was recommended I gave it a go. This is when I first discovered acupuncture, a friend recommended it and I was surprised due to my misconception that acupuncture wasn't just for pain symptoms. After my first session I felt more grounded, confident and more recognisable as the woman I was before the anxiety. Bit by bit, session by session, the anxiety dwindled away and I felt like myself again. This experience blew me away, I had to understand this magical treatment and help others; so with that I enrolled on a degree in Five Element Acupuncture at the College of traditional Acupuncture. I found that this experience has helped me to understand anxiety first hand and therefore help others that suffer from the condition; this awful condition finally served a meaningful purpose for me.
Anxiety is currently the second most common complaint that I see in my practice, following back pain. The following recent experience of acupuncture in the treatment of anxiety was kindly written for me by one of my patients…
At the time I considered acupuncture I was suffering with severe anxiety. I didn't actually realise how long I'd been suffering with this, or quite how much it was adversely affecting my life until I started treatment. I'd had this throughout most of my adult life. Many days I found it challenging to leave the house, this would involve several conversations with myself, changes of clothes due to perspiration and then often going back after leaving the house to check everything was switched off and ok. I would feel stressed regularly and find it hard to communicate under pressure as my breathing would become erratic and I was also prone to random emotional outbursts which sometimes scared me.
After just a few treatments I noticed a huge change to the way I felt both physically and emotionally. The built up tension which I sometimes felt physically in my chest area had gone. With this I felt stronger, more confident, and taller. As I became able to deal with situations that had previously caused me to have anxiety I felt more able to cope with my life and now my outlook has completely changed. Acupuncture has certainly made a big positive impact in my life.
Do you suffer from anxiety?
Firstly I would recommend visiting your GP to rule out any other underlying conditions/ deficiencies. They may recommend medication or Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) if your GP feels it may be beneficial.
Remove all caffeine from your diet such as tea, coffee, some soft drinks and chocolate. Caffeine is a stimulant and should be avoided if you are experiencing anxiety.
Breathing techniques can be wonderful especially for those experiencing panic attacks who have a tendency to shallow breathe. Belly breathing is my favourite and is very easy to do, simply place your hands on your belly and breathe slowly ensuring your breathing into your entire diaphragm; your hands should rise with every breath and sink on each exhale. Those that are shallow breathers may find it difficult to do however only five minutes of belly breathing a day can help and when comfortable you can use this technique when you are feeling anxious.
Finally, give acupuncture a try! (You knew that was coming); Acupuncture involves the relatively painless insertion of ultra fine sterile needles in to various parts of the body. These points are determined by the acupuncturist after taking a full health profile and history; lifestyle and dietary advice may also be given if appropriate. This ancient system of healing has been developed over 2,500 years and originated in China.
Acupuncturists have degree level qualifications and adhere to codes of safe practice and professional conduct in order to be registered and insured by the British Acupuncture Council. In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. This results in biochemical changes that influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being. Research suggests that acupuncture de-activates the ‘analytical brain’ responsible for over thinking and worrying thus promoting relaxation. Acupuncture is a safe adjunctive therapy which you can use safety whist taking medications and could even help lessen the unwanted side effects.
To find your local British Acupuncture Council member visit www.acupuncture.org.uk.
Part published in Braunstone Life September 2015