How acupuncture helps anxiety

By Lucy Mei Lee

Anxiety is a normal reaction to a high-stress situation, but in some cases it becomes excessive, chronic and can cause people to dread everyday situations.  

In 2013, an estimated 3 million Canadians (11.6%) aged 18 years or older reported that they had a mood and/or anxiety disorder.  Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive and persistent feelings of nervousness, anxiety, and even fear.  Anxiety can be experienced in many different ways with many different triggers, often producing a sense of overwhelm and racing thoughts.  These symptoms can be accompanied by a pounding heart, chest tightness, sweating, muscle tension or other physical sensations.

In my acupuncture practice, I treat many who struggle with anxiety.  Addressing underlying anxiety can benefit other areas of health such as insomnia, chronic pain and digestive issues.  When a person is anxious, there is a tendency to worry or overthink, which in Chinese medical terms causes the qi (pronounced chee – meaning potential vital energy that animates the body) to scatter or knot.  The acupoints chosen aim at restoring open and smooth flow and calming the mind and heart spirit.

The Acupuncture Evidence Project, co-authored by Dr John McDonald, PhD and Dr Stephen Janz, provides an up-to-date comparative review of the clinical and scientific evidence for acupuncture.  Their study included a 2016 systematic review with over 400 randomized patients that concluded that “the effects from acupuncture for treating anxiety have been shown to be significant as compared to conventional treatments.”

In the most recent systematic review published in 2018, it revealed that all of 13 included studies “reported an anxiety decrease for their treatment group relative to the control groups.” Three of these studies used pharmaceuticals as controls.

The main way that acupuncture works for anxiety is through its effect on the nervous system.  There are two components of the nervous system, one which releases signals which are excitatory (sympathetic nervous system) often called the “fight or flight system” and another which releases relaxation signals (parasympathetic nervous system), often called the “rest and digest system”.  Acupuncture has been shown to have an effect on both these systems.  These signals direct the body for heart rate, blood pressure, and contraction force.

How acupuncture can help you

When receiving acupuncture treatment, and for a period of time following, a vast majority of clients report a sense of calm well-being and increased stillness of the mind. Racing or intrusive thoughts have a tendency to bring someone’s mind into the past or the future. Being able to stay present more often is helpful in reducing anxiety, and acupuncture can assist people to recognize how to do that.  Some people report feeling more grounded in their bodies and an increased self-awareness around boundaries or other needs. Many find that regular acupuncture treatments help to better adapt with to stress in their lives, whether it be at home, in the office, or simply within.

lifestyle recommendations that can help you:

  • Remove any barriers to getting good quality and quantity of sleep.

  • Drink adequate water – even mild dehydration can affect mood and ability to concentrate.

  • Eat a balanced diet - avoid blood sugar imbalances by eating regularly, avoid sugar and limit caffeine. Eat a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables.

  • Make time for self-care practices, such as meditation, breathing, yoga, Qigong, TaiChi, or other types of exercise.

  • Apply acupressure to Heart 7/Spirit Gate (see photo). This acupoint is located on the inner wrist crease, about one centimetre inwards from the pinky edge on the inside of the bony prominence. Apply firm pressure for the count of three then rub in circles for the count of three. Breathe and continue like this for 3 rounds then end with holding the point for 5-10 seconds.

 
Tall Tree Integrated Health Centre
 

Most importantly, recognize that you are not alone and talk to somebody whom you can trust, whether it is a friend, family member, counsellor or health practitioner.  There are many strategies out there that can make a big difference. I’d love to hear from you what methods you have found to be helpful.

And yes, in case you were wondering, acupuncture is worth pursuing even if you are anxious about needles.  Find someone that you communicate well with and can trust. It may surprise you just how little you feel the needles and how relaxing the experience can be.

3 ways to set and stick to your New Year's Resolutions

We’ve all been there: it’s December 31, and we’re excitedly sharing our New Year’s resolutions with our friends and family. We have elaborate plans and big ideas. Flash forward another year, and we’ve realized our goals haven’t been put into motion. We feel defeated, frustrated, and upset with ourselves.

I see this all the time in my naturopathic practice, and I believe it stems from setting unrealistic goals without a specific or attainable action plan.

When we make health-related goals, it’s important to create boundaries for ourselves but include a little wiggle-room. Being too rigid can feel constraining, and often leads us to give up on our resolutions all-together.

Sticking to new year’s resolutions involve setting measurable goals, and holding yourself accountable.  Here are my top tips on how to set and stick to this year’s plans:

AVOID AN ALL-OR-NOTHING APPROACH

Expecting perfectionism is a recipe for feeling  frustrated and defeated. In fact, you don’t need to be ‘perfect’ to see improvements in your life, or progress with your goals. Determine attainable actions that act as the stepping stones to achieving your goal, and see how you can weave them into your life.

2. BE REALISTIC

Create a timeline of your goals, and schedule them into your calendar. Be realistic with your dates; give yourself extra time to avoid feeling stressed and burnt-out. Remember, the goal is to create sustainable, long-term lifestyle changes in regards to health, and this means being realistic and gentle with the pressure and expectations you place on yourself.

3. SHARE YOUR GOALS WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY

Create an accountability group; meet every few weeks and check in on each other’s progress. This will keep you feeling motivated and inspired to continue working towards your goals, and you may be surprised at how it helps you put your plans into motion sooner versus later.

Written by Dr. Marita Schauch


Dr. Melissa Glover's 10 tips to improve mental wellness during the holidays

Most of us ditch our self-care routine in December; the excess social engagements, holiday temptations, and opportunities to indulge can cause not only our physical health to suffer, but also our mental health. While this month can be challenging with the extra stress and expectation of the holidays, there are a few adjustments we can make in our day-to-day to help manage our well-being. Dr. Melissa Glover gives her top 10 tips to improve mental wellness during the holidays:

Dr. Melissa Glover Naturopath
  1. Eat your greens

Optimal diet is key to optimal health.Green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, chard and arugula contain vitamins and minerals such as B-vitamins, magnesium and iron. These nutrients reduce inflammation, boost energy and metabolic function, and improve mood by supporting the formation of neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.


2. Limit sugar and processed foods

We all expect there to be a ton of sugar in pop, candy, and baked goods, but shockingly sugar also hides in places we don’t expect it! Check the labels of your cereal or granola, sauces and condiments, protein bars, and even dairy products like yogurt and you’ll be surprised by the sugar content. The World Health Organization recently lowered the recommendation of daily sugar intake to under 5% of daily energy intake, or ~25g of refined sugars per day.

When we eat sugar our bodies release an excessive amount of insulin to process all the sugar which causes a rapid reduction of blood sugar. This leads to the release of a hormone called cortisol to compensate for it  Cortisol is our “fight or flight” hormone, a necessary survival mechanism but it can also cause anxiety and irritability. Blood sugar spikes and crashes also affect our energy levels and lead to that afternoon sluggish feeling. The best way to avoid these blood sugar crashes is to limit refined sugars, and if you are going to have something with sugar or a lot of starch, pair it with fat, fibre, and protein!


3. Support the adrenals.

The adrenal glands produce our stress hormone cortisol, and as previously mentioned cortisol is our “fight or flight” hormone. Cortisol is released from our adrenals when something is considered in our minds to be dangerous, harmful or stressful, or during physiological stressors like illness or inflammation. As you can imagine, there are a lot of things in our day-to-day lives that cause cortisol to be released, and therefore our adrenal glands often need some TLC.

There are lots of natural ways to support the adrenal glands including mitigating our stress where we can, and practicing mindful meditation or breathing exercises. We can also use adaptogenic herbs to support the adrenals. These herbs counteract the adverse effects of cortisol and stress, and support our adrenal glands to do their job more efficiently. Adaptogens enable the body's cells to access more energy and eliminate toxic by-products. Some examples of adaptogenic herbs include ashwaghanda, licorice, rhodiola, ginseng, and reishi mushroom. Check with your naturopathic doctor if adaptogenic herbs are right for you.


4. Be realistic, set goals, and prioritize.

It seems so simple, but it makes a world of a difference. Make a list of tasks you must do, and tackle them in order of importance. Delegate responsibilities where you can and prioritize what you love the most. Sometimes even this can seem overwhelming, so I often coach my patients to break projects into small steps. Be willing to compromise with yourself and with others, but set boundaries and stick to them.


5. Breathe

Shallow breathing prevents the body from getting enough oxygen. Many people fail to breathe deeply when they feel tense, which is one reason you might feel exhausted at the end of a stressful day. Breathing deeper, slower, quieter and more regularly helps you force more oxygen into your cells. Increased oxygen in your cells slows your heart rate, lowers blood pressure, improves circulation, and ultimately provides more energy.


6. Get active

Just 30 minutes of exercise at least three times per week allow us to get the cardiovascular benefits that lead to increased vitality. A study by California State University has found that the more steps people take, the more energetic they report feeling. This can be hard to imagine, because a lot of times when people are fatigued the last thing they want to do is exercise, but realistically exercise will be the thing that often energizes them the most. Unfortunately during the busy (and cold) holiday season, this is typically what gets dropped! Try to maintain an exercise routine to keep your mental and physical health in check.


7. Sleep soundly

Sleep hygiene is vital to getting those valuable Zzz’s. The basic aspects of proper sleep hygiene are having a regular schedule and bedtime routine; eliminating all light sources; avoiding stimulants in the afternoon and avoiding snacks high in simple carbohydrates (sugars) before bed.

Some ways to optimize your bedroom for sleep are to:

  • Keep it cool. A drop of body temperature stimulates sleep.

  • Keep it comfortable. If you wake up with more back or neck pain than you went to bed with it is probably time to buy a new mattress or pillow.

  • Keep it quiet. If your room is noisy use ear plugs, white noise, a fan or soft music.

  • Keep it dark. Melatonin, the main hormone for stimulating sleep, requires darkness. Use thick curtains, blinds, or eye masks to ensure maximum darkness.

  • Keep it work-free. Your bedroom is for sleeping and sex only. Watching television, working on a computer and reading can over stimulate the mind and negatively affect sleep.

  • Keep it free from distractions. Turn your phone on do not disturb (better yet, keep it out of the room), and turn your clock away from view.

  • Create bedroom “Zen.” Try removing clutter, homework, calendars etc., if you can, think about painting the room to earthy tones or making it your relaxing place, use calming lavender or peppermint essential oils in a diffuser.

  • Avoid using a loud alarm clock. Waking up suddenly to the blaring wail of an alarm clock can be a shock to your body; you’ll also find you’ll feel groggier when you are roused in the middle of a sleep cycle, if you get enough sleep on a regular basis, an alarm clock will not be necessary, if you do use an alarm, you should wake just before it goes off

    • Try a sunrise alarm, which is an alarm clock with natural light built in that simulates a sunrise,

    • Try an alarm that gradually gets louder, or soothing classical music


8. Get enough vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble compound that’s important as much for brain development as it is for bone development. Data suggests Vitamin D deficiency is linked to increased depressive symptoms. To naturally get enough vitamin D we require 15 minutes a day of sunlight on the skin between 10am and 3pm during summer when the UV index is at its highest. That being said, sunscreen is still advised to ward off harmful UV rays, and unfortunately reduces your ability to produce vitamin D by 90%. Aside from sunlight, vitamin D can also be found in oily fish, UVB-exposed mushrooms and fortified milk.

9. Incorporate healthy fats (omega-3s, essential fatty acids)

Polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 fatty acids) have a vital role in maintaining proper neuronal structure and function, as well as in modulating critical aspects of the inflammatory pathway in the body. Omega 3 fatty acids are one of nature’s best anti-inflammatories. Omega-3 fats can be found in nuts, seeds and oysters, although the highest amounts exist in oily fish such as sardines, salmon (especially King salmon), anchovies and mackerel.

MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil is another source of essential fatty acids that is rich in antioxidants. MCTs are digested easily and sent to your liver where they can quickly positively affect your metabolism by being burned as fuel, as ketones. A 2004 study found that the MCTs in coconut oil helped improve memory problems in older adults (The Journal of Neurobiology of Aging), and also can make you feel more clear-headed, energetic and positive. MCT oil helps not only feed your brain cells, but also improves your digestive health via the gut-brain connection.


10. Take probiotics

Research shows a connection between the bacteria in our guts and brain health, which may affect mental health, mood and energy (Trends Neurosci, 2013). Likely because over 80% of our serotonin is produced in the gut by these bacteria and serotonin is our happy, calm, focussed and relaxed neurotransmitter. Peripheral serotonin is produced in the digestive tract by enterochromaffin (EC) cells and by types of immune cells and neurons.

When the composition of the gut flora is compromised it can result in inflammatory responses that can negatively affect the nervous system and brain function. A balanced microflora environment is supported by a diet rich in the foods that nourish beneficial bacteria and reduce harmful microbial species. Beneficial microflora can be supported by eating fermented foods such as tempeh, sauerkraut, kefir and yoghurt, and by pectin-rich foods such as fruit skin or supplementing with a multi-strain probiotic.

You don’t need to completely change your lifestyle to employ these tips. Do what you can, and start small. Even a few changes can lead you to be more mindful of your mental wellness.




How to practice self-care during the holiday season

Amanda Erickson RMT

Our Western world and busy lives tell us that our productivity is a measure of our success. We are conditioned to believe we must show up, persevere, and keep going; no matter what.  

However, when we observe nature at this time of year, everything slows down. Squirrels have stashed their treasures, the birds fly south, and creatures hibernate until the warmth of spring returns.  Yet here we are running around like there’s never enough time in the day.

I have been experimenting with what it means to listen to my nervous system. I  crave the slow days and evenings at home.  Like nature, this time of year has me turning inwards. I want to curl up beside a fireplace with a pile of knitting and endless pots of tea, all while my brain says, “Go! Holidays are around the corner. Prepare! Do more!”

The looming holiday season is full of events, to-do’s, and social commitments. Often it can feel overwhelming. Tune into yourself and listen to what aligns you as you navigate times of busyness.

Here are a few tips to get started:

1.     Manage your schedule

Physically scheduling in my self-care time is a great help and a huge start to the process. Treating your body to a massage or acupuncture is a great way to turn down the heightened nervous system at this time of year, and to let that unneeded shoulder tension dissipate. Take a new yoga class, or get a session with a kinesiologist, physiotherapist, or other health professional to get the support you need.

 

2.     Get outside

 Take a walk in nature, even if it's just stepping outside your office or front door for a stroll around the block. Notice the beautiful details of nature; take it all in, and relish in the present moment.

 

3.     Slow down

Take five deep, nourishing breaths. Try this before you leave the house for work, or before you head out to tackle that list of to-do’s. Try a few minutes of meditation of savasana (corpse pose) to slow the mind.

 

4.     Cultivate gratitude

Write down five things you are grateful for in this moment. Focussing on what you’re grateful for helps give you perspective and realize all that you currently have.

 

From my experience, when we tune into self we can use our time more efficiently. The above options have proven to me that when we prioritize turning towards alignment of heart, mind, and body, the to-do list becomes checked off, and the time to accomplish it is all there.  Taking just a few extra moments to turn inwards with ourselves gives us more time in return.

6 ways to stay active in the winter

I’ll be the first to admit that keeping up with an exercise routine is more difficult when the days get shorter and the temperature gets cooler. However, I also know that staying active is vital for both my physical health and mental well-being, and this keeps me motivated to prioritize exercise in my weekly schedule. Think of it this way - we don’t always want to brush our teeth, but we do it every day because we know its good for our health and we always feel better afterwards. The same goes for exercise.

So, how exactly do we prioritize exercise in our weekly schedule, especially as winter approaches? Here are a few tips to help keep you motivated:

Alex Piller Kinesiology Blog
  1. Find a type of exercise you enjoy

    Exercise is a form of self-care and should be fun! If you enjoy an activity, it increase the likelihood that you will actually do it. Sometimes, though, the activities we enjoy in the summer aren’t as much fun in the winter. For example, I am a “fair weather cyclist,” so instead of cycling outdoors in the winter I attend an indoor spin class. If you’re someone who enjoys going for daily walks, maybe try going during your lunch break while the sun is still up instead of waiting until after work. Sometimes trying another form of your favourite exercise or tweaking your schedule is all you need to do to keep yourself motivated.

  2. Schedule it in!

    When you’re planning your weekly schedule, purposefully set aside time for physical activity. It’s even better if you can write it in your calendar or sign up for fitness classes ahead of time. Planning ahead will help you commit.


  3. Surround yourself with people who motivate you

    This may mean finding a workout partner, or attending an instructor-led class. Typically, the hardest part about getting active is physically getting to the gym (or putting your walking shoes on). If you can commit to meeting a friend or signing up for a class, you’re more likely to actually go.


  4. Get a support network

    Sometimes watching someone exercise is all the motivation we need to get off the couch. Try following social media accounts or YouTube channels of your favourite athletes, exercise specialists, health and fitness magazines, or local gyms for regular inspirational content on your feed (Disclaimer: choose accounts that help to motivate you, not those that cause you to compare yourself to others or leave you with negative thoughts about yourself).


  5. Consider the time of day you schedule your workouts

    If you’re anything like me and plan to wake up early to workout, only to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep, chances are you’re going to bail more often than not. Instead of trying to workout early in the morning, I go straight to the gym after work. This works best for me because if I go home first, I may get too comfortable (or hungry) and decide to stay put. On the contrary, I know lots of “morning people” who prefer to start their day with a workout, and that way they don’t have to worry about their day getting away from them and not being able to fit it in.


  6. Set goals

    The more specific, the better. For example, “exercise more” is vague and open to interpretation, but “exercise three times per week for 60 minutes” is clear and concise. You may have goals around committing to regular weekly activity, or they may be more personal (e.g. lose 10 lbs before Mexico vacation, increase 1 rep max back squat by 20 lbs, run 10 km in under 50 minutes) - what matters is that they’re meaningful to you.

-By Alex Piller