Its Mental Health Awareness week!
What is stress?
Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels increase risk of anxiety, depression, and lower life expectancy. Scientific studies link elevated cortisol levels as a potential trigger for mental illness.
Cortisol is released in response to fear or stress by the adrenal glands as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism. The fight-or-flight mechanism is part of the general adaptation syndrome.
Once the alarm to release cortisol has sounded, your body becomes mobilised and ready for action — but there has to be a physical release of fight or flight. Otherwise, cortisol levels build up in the blood, which wreaks havoc on your mind and body.
Distress, or free-floating anxiety, doesn’t provide an outlet for the cortisol and causes the fight-or-flight mechanism to backfire. Ironically, our own biology — which was designed to insure our survival as hunters and gatherers — is sabotaging our bodies and minds in a sedentary digital age. What can we do to defuse this ticking time-bomb?
In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neuro chemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body’s homeostatic mechanisms, promoting physical and emotional well-being.
Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically benefit anxiety disorders and symptoms of anxiety by:
- Acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry (Hui 2010).
- Regulating levels of neurotransmitters (or their modulators) and hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA, neuropeptide Y and ACTH; hence altering the brain’s mood chemistry to help to combat negative affective states (Lee 2009; Samuels 2008; Zhou 2008; Yuan 2007).
- Stimulating production of endogenous opioids that affect the autonomic nervous system (Arranz 2007). Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, while acupuncture can activate the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the relaxation response.
- Reversing pathological changes in levels of inflammatory cytokines that are associated with anxiety (Arranz 2007)
- Reversing stress-induced changes in behaviour and biochemistry (Kim 2009).
Acupuncture can be safely combined with conventional treatments such as medication or psycho-educational therapy, possibly enhancing their beneficial effects (Courbasson 2007) and reducing unwanted side-effects (Yuan 2007).