Acupuncture and Depression
How can acupuncture help treat depression? Well, in the same way that depression manifests differently in everyone, acupuncture also helps everyone a little differently.
The first way is indirect; choosing acupuncture (or, really, any other health modality) means you have chosen to ask for help, something which takes a lot of strength and vulnerability for many people. It means you have decided to let someone else help you with your burdens and are allowing yourself to be taken care of, which is a powerful act of self care.
The second way is the actual anatomical side of things; it involves how acupuncture impacts the body and brings about physiological changes that lead to healing. Let’s explore these two paths more in depth.
As mentioned above, even just booking an acupuncture appointment is a huge step for many people experiencing depression. It means that you have decided to ask for help, which can be extremely daunting! When you go for an acupuncture treatment, it means you have set aside time for yourself where you will be listened to and cared for, which can be just as beneficial as the actual acupuncture itself.
For the duration of the treatment you have nowhere else to be, no obligations, and no distractions. The treatment will be quiet and designed to make you feel safe, relaxed, and supported.
Something that I quickly realised when I started studying acupuncture is that acupuncturists and doctors of Chinese medicine are not healing anyone; rather we are empowering people to heal themselves. We offer an opportunity for people to take back control from the tricks depression plays on the mind and, using the tools of our trades (needles, herbal medicine, etc), we remind the body that it innately knows how to function in a harmonious way. We offer the remembrance that you are and always have been whole.
Some of the main symptoms of depression can include feeling hopeless, feeling numb, overwhelmed, sorrowful, frustrated, angry, fatigued, and alone. By connecting with you through acupuncture, we remind you that none of those feelings are permanent and that there are people who care and are there to help you feel like yourself again. Those feelings may be inside of you, but they are not You. There is always hope!
Based on your individual situation, symptoms, tongue appearance, and pulse, your practitioner will come up with a treatment plan for you. This includes not only which acupuncture points will be used, but also helps determine treatment frequency and duration. No two people experiencing depression will receive identical treatment plans. That being said, there are some more common causes of depression according to TCM; this is especially true for people who live in similar circumstances to each other. So, while every person is a unique case, common patterns do arise.
Liver Qi Stagnation
One of the most typical causes of depression in the modern western world is something we refer to as Liver Qi Stagnation. Each organ of the body has its own Qi (energy), which dictates the organ’s function and role in the body. By picking up on specific symptoms, it helps your practitioner narrow down which organ(s) may need more support to return the body to a state of harmony. The liver is the organ in the body most responsible for making sure all the different types of Qi in the body move smoothly. The liver is also closely connected to the emotion anger, either in excess or deficiency. When the liver Qi becomes stagnated, it can start causing problems.
The most common symptoms associated with Liver Qi Stagnation are frustration, frequent sighing (like trying to release pressure built up in the chest and throat), mood swings with a tendency toward anger, feeling melancholy, headaches, muscle tension (especially in the neck, upper back, and between the shoulder blades), difficulty falling asleep or restless sleep, and irregular and/or painful menstruation.
By treating the liver and helping it to move stagnated Qi, it can greatly decrease these symptoms and help the liver return to its regular state of function.
Spleen Qi Deficiency
Spleen Qi Deficiency is another common factor in depression. The spleen in Chinese medicine also encompases the pancreas in function. It helps to create blood in the body, is important in digestion, and hormone regulation. Spleen Qi can become easily deficient when it is strained. This happens when we are overusing our brain (like studying a lot), living in cold damp climates, eating an excess of greasy, sweet, raw, or heavy foods, and also not getting enough essential nutrients from our food, like iron or magnesium.
When the spleen becomes deficient, it is unable to support digestion and brain function as well, and this can cause symptoms like loose stools, foggy thinking, heavy feeling limbs, feeling sluggish and like you want to lie down all the time, fatigue, overthinking (especially repetitive thoughts), feelings of hopelessness and emotional numbness, and feeling bloated and having excess gas.
Another common pattern is Blood Deficiency. Blood deficiency is a broad term in Chinese medicine and can have many sources, which your practitioner would narrow down during your consultation. It doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of physical blood in the body, but rather a lack of nutrient rich blood, often combined with poor circulation. That said, it causes symptoms like dry skin and eczema (as the blood can’t reach the extremities to nourish the skin there), dry brittle hair, nails, and dry eyes, late or skipped periods, dizziness, along with cold hands and feet. In terms of depressive symptoms, it manifests as anxiety, feeling like you can’t relax, muscle tension, being easily startled, lack of energy, insomnia, poor memory, and nightmares or excessive dreams.
Blood deficiency is often caused by poor nutrition, working long hours without enough rest, chronic sleep deprivation, anemia (this can be a cause or a symptom, depending on your health history), a history of heavy periods, and chronic stress.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
If any of the symptoms above resonate with you, it may be time to book an appointment with a Chinese medicine practitioner! If none of the above seems like it fits with you, don’t worry. Those may be some of the most common causes of depression according to TCM but it is by no means an exhaustive list; everyone will have a unique pattern.
Acupuncture Releases Helpful Neurochemicals
Even from a Western physiological perspective, acupuncture is great for depression. When you receive acupuncture, it starts a chain reaction in the body that results in the release of serotonin, endorphins, and GABA to name a few. In a nutshell, Serotonin and GABA are two of the main neurochemicals that keep the brain happy, relaxed, and able to handle stress in a healthy way. Decreased levels of serotonin and GABA are major factors for the majority of people experiencing depression. Endorphins help your body manage pain and stress. The three of these together mean that by receiving acupuncture, you are helping your body and mind be happier, healthier, relaxed, and less in pain.
Do you have any questions about how acupuncture can help you treat depression? Feel free to contact us or book a free 20 minute consultation online!