Updated: Jul 23
It’s a frightening time living through a worldwide pandemic, one could argue that anxiety and/ or depression could be considered an appropriate human response to the current situation. Life as we knew it has changed, we are suffering from a lack of routine, lack of human touch, missing our family, missing hugs and connections, time spent with friends and people that we love, we are left with a great uncertainty about the future, money worries, health fears, family concerns, isolation, loneliness, loss and fear. If you had been fortunate enough not to have experienced low mood or anxiety before now, chances are you may have experienced some impact on your wellbeing throughout the last few weeks.
1 in 3 of us will suffer from anxiety at some point in our life, this figure is likely much higher as these figures are based on the statistics that get reported. Anxiety can be experienced through unpleasant thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. One of the changes observed in the brains of patients with anxiety disorders is an increased neuronal activity in the amygdala, an area of the brain that plays a key role in processing emotions such as fear, anger, sadness or anxiety. The amygdala is part of the limbic system which influences the endocrine system and the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is comprised of the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system and the parasympathetic (rest and digest, feed and breed) nervous system. In the experience of anxiety, the parasympathetic nervous system may be compromised and therefore so can the the ability to ‘rest and digest’ which can result in the experience of anxiety, issues and digestion issues. Acupuncture decreases sympathetic activity and increases parasympathetic activity (amongst other beneficial mechanisms that we will discuss later), which positions acupuncture to be useful in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
Prior to the Covid19 I had been working with Anxiety UK and the British Acupuncture Council in an ongoing research project which had demonstrated great promise for treating anxiety with Traditional Acupuncture. Aside from this project, I had been working with anxiety patients for nearly 10 years and witnessed such powerful transformations. It is no secret that I have first hand experience of the debilitating condition, which lead me to my specialism. Having suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for many years, I sought help in the form of Traditional Acupuncture and was blown away from results where other modalities had failed me. I went on to study Traditional Acupuncture and completed degree in Five Element acupuncture at the College of Traditional Acupuncture. Five Element acupuncture places a great emphasis in the health of a persons emotional wellbeing. Grief, sadness, shock, anger, fear, and worry can all have a detrimental impact on both a persons emotional and physical health. It is well accepted and documented that stress can cause physical responses such as mouth ulcers, stomach ulcers, hypertension, repressed immune response, insomnia, coronary heart disease and more; and this is where Five Element Acupuncture ackowledges the ripples of chaos that other prolonged negative emotional states may cause.
In an integrative review Goyatá (2016) agrees that Acupuncture seems to be a promising treatment for anxiety. Acupuncture activates the parasympathetic nervous system, regulates hormones, neuro transmitters and their modulators, reverses pathological changes in levels of inflammatory cytokines that are associated with anxiety and is also is capable of deactivating the analytical brain responsible for stress and worry. Acupuncture is a relatively relaxing experience, after discussing patients health current, health history, looking at tongue, pulse, blood pressure and diet a Traditional Acupuncturist will then insert fine needles in various parts of the body. The needles are relatively painless, and those with needle phobias tend to be relieved by the lack of painful stimulus. I have never had someone discontinue due to the acupuncture needle sensation to date, it’s generally a relaxing experience.
Below you can find some kind testimonials that patients had shared with me demonstrating the benefits from acupuncture in the treatment of depression, PTSD and anxiety.
“ ...you have massively reduced my stress and anxiety and as well as walking the dogs, I have now managed to start running on the park with.... Thanks for your help and motivation...”
“...Claire has also helped me with my low mood, Depression and PTSD all something I could never have got a handle on without Claire's expertise, especially after my daughter was diagnosed with Leukaemia when i hit rock bottom. Along with being a kind, genuine and nice person to talk to about life and problems with. Thank you Claire from the bottom of my heart...”
“ I am so grateful for the difference that acupuncture has made to me, It’s given me back my life. My world had become so small, full of triggers that I had to avoid, I was barely living! My whole family can see the difference and I am so glad I made the leap to start acupuncture. I really look forward to my sessions...”
“ ...my anxiety has been lowered to a level that I haven’t been at for a long time...”
“...Acupuncture also helped with my menstrual cycle and anxiety issues. It’s all thanks to acupuncture that I can now enjoy living my life again...”
“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.”
My clinic space is a place of support and non judgement, all fears and anxieties are irrational and we know this in our rational minds. The fears and anxieties I have worked with have been so varied, and so debilitating from public speaking, eating in public, travel phobia, relationship anxiety, public places, spending time alone, bladder control, depersonalisation. As an invisible illness, it can be really difficult for family and friends to relate to, unless they have suffered first hand themselves which can leave the person feeling even more inadequate and misunderstood. The lack of support or understanding can then leave the sufferer feeling as if they are losing their mind (which they are not), its no wonder that this thought pattern could effect self esteem, confidence, and therefore perpetuate the cycle even more.
My top anxiety busting tips ...
1. Visit your GP
If you haven’t already, you may need even need to have some blood tests to rule out underlying conditions such as Hyperthyroidism, hyperglycaemia or a deficiency (such as B12 or anaemia) which can be safely treated and monitored by your GP.
2. Get acupuncture! (You knew that was coming).
Acupuncture (with a qualified acupuncturist) is a perfectly safe modality to use stand alone or as part of a combined approach with medications or cognitive behavioural therapy. Acupuncture can also help to reduce some of the unpleasant side effects of medication. To locate a local and licensed traditional acupuncturist you can do so by visiting acupuncture.org.uk
3. Spend time in nature
Over stimulation by digital environment can fuel symptoms. Feel grounded and get outside, walk in the park, by the sea, or simply sit in your own garden / local park. A method called ‘grounding’ involves spending time barefoot walking or standing on earth. Kick those flip flops off in the garden and spend time bare foot walking on your grass. Other methods of earthing include lying down, submerging in water.
In a study of 40 volunteers Chevalier (2015) illustrated that moods statistically significantly improved among grounded-but not sham-grounded-participants. It is concluded that the 1-hr. contact with the Earth improved mood more than expected by relaxation alone.
4. Ditch all caffeine, seriously!
Caffeine is a stimulant, it stimulates your ‘fight or flight response’ and can cause an anxiety attack. Constant use of up to 8 caffeinated beverages per day can cause almost constant anxiety, breathlessness and insomnia. This could add to/ be causing palpitations, racing heart, racing thoughts.
In my clinical experience, this is where I see great resistance and push back. If you suffer with anxiety and or panic attacks, please do yourself a favour and ditch the 4-5 coffees per day. And please do realise that tea is also caffeinated, even green tea contains some caffeine if not decaffeinated. Of-course, there are varying strengths amongst brands of teas, coffees and even decaf coffees! You will really have to do some research on your favourite brands to determine whether it could be contributing to your anxiety.
Heres some alternatives..
If tea is your beverage try rooibos (Brand names to look for in the UK are Redbush and TicToc. Rooibos is naturally de caffeinated, the leaves never contained caffeine in the first place (which means no chemicals were needed to extract the caffeine). Rooibos is a national staple of South Africa, many use the sweetness of Rooibos to loose weight and satisfy a sweet tooth as it has a natural sweetness. This tea is full of antioxidants and vitamin C, what more can you ask for from a tea!? You can add milk and sugar if you wish to and even dunk a biscuit in if you really wish as it’s not a herbal tea, but for many it is sweet enough.
Try raw bean coffee grounds. Raw Bean uses the ‘Swiss Water Method’ to decaffeinate the beans without using toxic chemicals. Lavazza also offer a Swiss water method decaffeinated ground coffee which is also fabulous! I have also noticed smaller brands starting to offer a ‘Swiss Water Method decaf’ as it seems to be rising in popularity
Maca/ Peruvian ginseng is the mood and energy boosting, menopause supporting, free radical fighting, full of nutrients and delicious new addition to your hot beverage collection.
**Not recommended for those who are pregnant, on hormone treatments or with thyroid disorders**
Here’s my own recipe…
1 Tsp Maca powder
1 Tsp Cacao powder
1 pinch of cinnamon to taste
1 pinch of cayenne pepper (only if you like a kick)
1 tea spoon of honey/ maple syrup/ to taste
Boiled water, just enough to blend dry ingredients
Almond milk enough to fill the remainder of the cup (or your favourite milk alternative)
Add the Maca and cocao powder and cinnamon and cayenne powder (if using) to favourite mug
Add boiling water, maybe 1/8 of a mug, just enough to mix the powders in thoroughly
Mix mix mix, no bumps please
Heat choice of milk up in preferred method (milk frother, pan) and add to water and powder blend.
Add honey/ maple syrup to taste if desired.
4. Practice mindfulness
Calm App (Free, with in-app purchases)
This App is recommended by my colleague Claire Truss Lic.Ac MBAcC for stress and anxiety. Set the time you have for the exercise and the app will make a sound for you to breathe in, hold and breathe out. Lie downing focus on your breathing, the app will stop when the time is up, Claire suggests starting for one minute per day and build up to longer.
Tai Chi and Mindfulness
If you are in Leicester I recommend Mindfulness Leicester who also offer Tai Chi classes and mindful bread making courses! find them at https://www.mindfulnessleicester.co.uk
5. Start a new hobby
Many of us have more time on our hands than usual, and that can be when those with anxiety have 'more time to think' or those wit a tendency toward depression feel less sense of purpose.
"In these stressful uncertain times, taking up a new hobby that you can focus your energy onto can make a big difference. It doesnt matter what it is..wood carving, knitting, guitar... the main thing is the achievement from learning something new whilst being distracted from the TV news." Ben Hymas Lic.Ac MBAcC
6. Push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Baz Luhrmann said it best 'Do one thing everyday that scares you', and went on to describe the fruitless activity of worry and something about dancing the 'funky chicken'. Another favourite quote of mine 'feel the fear and do it anyway'. I find this particularly helpful when facing an anxiety provoking battle ahead of me.
"Do things that scare you. A lot of anxiety is rooted in fear. When one takes action and does something that actually frightens them, they come through it knowing that they've survived and begin to feel more confident. The more comfortable we get with Fear, feeling it, allowing it to move through us, and us through it, the more familiar it becomes. And as we all know, the familiar rarely is frightening." Terry Fox, L.Ac., LMT, MSTCM
And this is the function of exposure therapy which is considered a gold standard to treat specific phobias. It is hard to talk to and reason with the amygdala, and by repeatedly teaching your amygdala and ANS that there is really no threat here through repeated exposure, then you can normalise that fearful experience so that it no longer triggers the fight or flight response.
7. Try Acupressure
Whilst Acupuncture may be temporarily unavailable for now (during lockdown) you could try acupressure at home to help to ease symptoms. With many acupuncturists offering Telehealth and virtual appointments you can arrange appointments with step by step individualised acupressure guidance based on your presentation, complaints, face reading and tongue diagnosis. Sarah Stamp Lic.Ac MBAcC demonstrates An Mian, a beautiful acupressure point to help with sleep (its actually called 'peaceful sleep') and you can find a demo by her at the link here
8. Try Ear Seeds
Most of my patients are familiar with the stress and anxiety busting 24 carrot gold ear seeds that I sometimes use at the end of a session, placed on an auricular acupuncture point to send you home with. The purpose is to reduce stress and anxiety over the the course of a few days. My patients and I LOVE ear seeds, they can be the icing on the cake to treatment for those that suffer with stress and anxiety.
Did you know that I used ear seeds to get through my wedding day, I was terrified! I also used them for interviews, social gatherings and many anxiety provoking events.
You can purchase them from me and choose delivery or socially distance collection if you are local.
Simply message to order.
Available for collection @£19.99
Or £22.98 inc postage UK
9. Use lavender oil
Anxiety and stress can play havoc on our skin.
Increased levels of anxiety and stress are closely linked to skin problems such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. Acupuncture is well known for its anti-inflammatory effect which means it can balance out your hormones and bring your skin back to a healthy condition. I also recommend my patients to add a few drops of lavender aromatherapy essential oil to a clean tissue and to inhale its aroma during the day. Lavender is known to calm the nervous system and calm our mind which in turn leads to clearer skin
- Sahar Hooti , Skin specialist, Licensed acupuncturist and Aromatherapist
10. Be kind
This year, the topic of the Mental Health Awareness week is to be kind, and I would like you to start being kind to yourself. It's OK that you haven't wrote a novel, built a side hustle or an empire on your time off, its ok that you have barely organised your shoe closet. This is the time to look inward, retreat and survive, not thrive! And always remember to be kind to others, as you really do not know of their struggles. People around us have lost loved ones, friends, jobs, businesses and dreams. Tensions are particularly high right now as many of us are battling our own struggles. A beautiful message and reminder is to choose kindness, for all, and always.
Acupuncture & Wellness. 2020.About Ben Hymas BSC (Hons) Mbacc Founder Of Acupuncture & Wellness. [online] Available at: <https://acupuncture-wellness.co.uk/about/> [Accessed 18 May 2020].
Acucare Clinic. 2020.About. [online] Available at: <https://acucareclinic.co.uk/About> [Accessed 18 May 2020].
Anxiety UK. 2020. Anxiety UK And British Acupuncture Council Launch Pilot Project - Anxiety UK. [online] Available at: <https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/anxiety-uk-and-british-acupuncture-council-launch-pilot-research-project/> [Accessed 18 May 2020].
Artesian Spring Oriental Medicine. 2020.Fort Collins Acupuncturist - Terry Fox Of Artesian Spring Oriental Medicine. [online] Available at: <https://www.artesianspringom.com/fort-collins-acupuncturist-terry-fox/?v=3e8d115eb4b3> [Accessed 18 May 2020].
Chevalier G. The effect of grounding the human body on mood. Psychol Rep. 2015;116(2):534‐542. doi:10.2466/06.PR0.116k21w5
Claire Truss Acupuncture. 2020. Claire Truss Acupuncture, Loughton. [online] Available at: <http://clairetruss.co.uk> [Accessed 18 May 2020].
Goyatá SL, Avelino CC, Santos SV, Souza Junior DI, Gurgel MD, Terra Fde S. Effects from acupuncture in treating anxiety: integrative review. Efeitos da acupuntura no tratamento da ansiedade: revisao integrativa. Rev Bras Enferm. 2016;69(3):602‐609. doi:10.1590/0034-7167.2016690325i
Mian, A., 2020.An Mian - Olive Tree. [online] Olive Tree. Available at: <http://www.olivetreebeauty.co.uk/an-mian/> [Accessed 18 May 2020].