Treating Anxiety with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine



The common types of anxiety disorders are:


Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

GAD is characterized by an extreme worry about something (family, finances, health, etc.) even when there is little or no reason to worry about it. For persons with GAD, worries get in the way of everyday living.

Common symptoms of GAD include:

  • Worrying very much about everyday things
  • Trouble controlling worries
  • Awareness that your level of worry is more than what’s considered normal
  • Trouble relaxing
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Startling easily
  • Sleep disturbances

Panic Disorder:

People with panic disorder have sudden and repeated attacks of fear that last for several minutes or more. These panic attacks can occur at any time, and are characterized by a fear of disaster or losing control when there is no real danger. Panic attacks can also include physical symptoms, and can even feel like having a heart attack.

Symptoms of panic disorder include:

  • Sudden and repeated attacks of fear
  • Feeling of being out of control during a panic attack
  • Intense worry about when the next panic attack will occur
  • Fear or avoidance of places where panic attacks have happened in the past
  • Physical symptoms during an attack: pounding or racing heart, sweating, breathing problems, weakness/dizziness and more


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD):

People with OCD feel an overwhelming need to check things repeatedly or have certain repeating thoughts or routines. These thoughts and rituals cause distress and can get in the way of daily life. Repeated thoughts are called obsessions, and repeated actions or rituals are called compulsions. A person with OCD cannot control these obsessions and compulsions. OCD usually starts in childhood or the teens, and symptoms may come and go or get better or worse at different times.

Signs and symptoms of OCD include:

  • Repeated thoughts or images: These may vary widely, from fear of germs and dirt to thoughts of violence.
  • Doing the same rituals over and over, such as washing hands, locking and unlocking doors, keeping unneeded items or doing the same steps over and over
  • Inability to control unwanted thoughts and behaviors
  • Spending at least one hour a day on thoughts and rituals, interfering with daily life

Social Anxiety:

Social anxiety is a strong fear of being judged by others and being embarrassed. Social anxiety is much more than just being a little anxious or worried—the fear can get in the way of doing everyday things, like going to work. People with social anxiety may worry about social situations for weeks in advance and cannot control their fear.

Symptoms of social anxiety include:

  • Worry about being with other people
  • Having a hard time talking to others, even when you want to
  • Feeling very self-conscious and embarrassed in front of others
  • Fear of other people judging you
  • Avoidance of places where there are other people
  • Difficulty making and keeping friends
  • Physical symptoms around others: blushing, sweating, trembling, feeling nauseated


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

PTSD develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event. While it’s natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic event, a person with PTSD continues to experience problems for a long time, and they will often feel afraid or stressed, even when they are not in danger. PTSD diagnosis is complex and, in adults, requires the presence of multiple symptoms for at least a month.

PTSD symptoms may include:

  • Re-experiencing or reliving the trauma over and over in flashbacks, dreams or thoughts
  • Avoiding places, people or things that remind you of the trauma
  • Cognitive and mood symptoms, such as trouble remembering features of the traumatic event, negative feelings about yourself or feelings of guilt

How Abbotsford Community Acupuncture & Chinese medicine clinic can help 

If you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks, you’re very familiar with the symptoms—heart palpitations or the sensation of a racing heart, chest tightness, numbness and tingling in your hands and feet, feeling light headed, shortness of breath, and the general feeling of fear, or that you might die right now. 

Anxiety can be a tricky thing.  For some people it seems to come out of nowhere and creep up at unexpected moments.  For others, anxiety is predictable and associated with certain events, fears, or situations.  Things like driving on the highway, eating in restaurants, and spiders all have the potential to create anxiety. 

There are a number of causes of anxiety.  Traumatic events top the list.  People who have been exposed to trauma, violence, emotional duress, or threats of any kind know the source of their anxiety. This includes unrelenting stress and worry over a life event or situation that’s not easily resolved. 

Unfortunately, many people experience anxiety symptoms and don’t know why, which only makes the anxiety worse.  These are the people who think they’re going crazy because they seemingly have no reason to feel anxious.  However, it’s important to know that anxiety can be caused by physical problems, such as hormonal imbalances, digestive issues, heart problems, and drug side effects.

Anxiety can run in families.  I have found that many of my patients who suffer from anxiety have either a parent or a child who also struggles with anxiety, too.  This may be due to genetic makeup or how a particular family copes with stressful life events. Whether anxiety in families is due to nature or nurture, it’s not uncommon that family members will have similar triggers for their anxiety.

In Chinese medicine, there are three organ systems related to anxiety; the Heart, Spleen, and Kidneys.


The Chinese view anxiety as worry that has gotten out of control.  Each organ system is associated with an emotion, and worry is the emotion associated with the Chinese Spleen.  The Spleen is also your organ system of digestion.  It sifts and sorts what you’ve eaten, takes what is useful, turns it into nutrients to fuel your body, and gets rid of what is not needed.  While your Spleen primarily digests foods, it also plays a role in the sifting and sorting of ideas.  While the emotion associated with the Spleen is worry, it is essentially the same as not being able to sort through and let go of unnecessary ideas.  Worry is a kind of unhealthy rumination, and when it gets out of control, worry becomes anxiety and fear.

While your Spleen is the organ of digestion, your Heart is the Chinese organ of feelings.  We intuitively know that the Heart is an emotional organ.  We feel things with all our heart, have our heart broken, or thank someone from the bottom of our heart. Your Heart is home to the Shen, or your spirit, according to Chinese theory.  Its function is similar to that of your brain in Western biomedicine.  As such your Heart is the home to consciousness, memory, emotions, and thinking.  Whenever someone suffers from any kind of emotional upset or condition, such as anxiety, the Heart is always involved. 

Finally, the Chinese Kidney also plays a role in anxiety in a couple of ways.  First, the emotion related to the Kidney is fear, which is the underlying component of anxiety.  Secondly, the Kidney is the deepest and most nourishing of our organs.  It’s responsible for how well you age, your underlying body constitution, and is the source of all the fundamental substances in your body, such as Yin, Yang, and Essence.  Your Kidney is the organ system most damaged by stress and anxiety.  The Western condition of adrenal fatigue (from stress, anxiety, overwork, etc.) correlates to a severe Kidney depletion in Chinese medicine.

Chinese medicine and acupuncture can offer a number of strategies to help someone suffering from anxiety.  Abbotsford Community Acupuncture  would work by first calming your Shen using acupuncture. This is an effective first line of defense, as research has documented the positive effects that acupuncture has on brain chemistry.   It has been found that acupuncture increases the secretion of endorphin in the brain, the feel good substance associated with pain relief and runner’s high. This effect accounts for the relaxing and calming sensation patients feel both during and after their treatments.

We  practitioner of Chinese medicine might also address your anxiety by nourishing your Spleen and restoring your Kidney health.  Beyond acupuncture, there are a number of safe and effective herbal formulas that can help calm anxiety. Your practitioner can prescribe the combination of herbs that is most appropriate to your individual needs.

Food therapy and lifestyle changes may also be part of your treatment for anxiety.  This may include at-home calming strategies, avoiding stimulants such as coffee or tea, dietary changes, and breathing techniques—all of which can be effective in relieving anxiety.