Therapies & Solutions

Does Acupuncture Help With Anxiety Problems?

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

Does Acupuncture Help With Anxiety Problems?

There are many types of alternative medicine approaches to treating anxiety. These treatments are used to help treat anxiety without the long term expenses of therapy or potential side effects of prescribed medication. One of the most popular and well known alternative treatments is acupuncture. People use acupuncture for anxiety treatment and prevention. Many people have reported finding success in treating their anxiety with acupuncture.

But does acupuncture work? The answer is a little unclear. This article will explore acupuncture as an anxiety treatment, and whether or not you should consider it as an alternative to other therapies.

Acupuncture for Anxiety

The realities of treating anxiety are that different people require different treatments, even when suffering from the same type of anxiety. That's because different people have different personalities, different needs, and of course, different symptoms.

Research is mixed on the benefits of acupuncture. Born from centuries of Chinese history, acupuncture is based on the principle of Qi (also spelled "Chi"), Yin and Yang, Elemental Theory and more. In acupuncture symptoms are corrected by placing sterilized needles at very specific points in the body. While the components are much more complex, acupuncturists believe that by balancing qi correctly throughout the body (including "circulating the blood," warming, etc.), and responding to diagnoses using these acupuncture points, it is possible to effectively treat anxiety.

Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture is considered in many ways to be an "alternative" medicine, and as such, very little research is designed to look at acupuncture and measure its outcomes in a way that can confirm or deny its benefits. Most large studies show that acupuncture isn't an effective treatment for any type of health issue, and yet with millions of people swearing to the success of acupuncture, more studies are needed.

It's possible that acupuncture is effective, and equally possible that it is not. It's a treatment that you should choose only when you have carefully considered all treatment options. It's possible that acupuncture will provide you with the relief you need; however, it's important to keep an open mind to other treatments especially those which are evidenced-based. If acupuncture doesn't appear to be working for you, move on to something else. Even if acupuncture is as effective as some believe, it will not work for everyone.

The Value of Acupuncture for Anxiety

For the remainder of the article, we will be assuming that acupuncture is effective. If acupuncture is indeed an effective treatment it is especially useful because it provides three separate benefits that are important to those living with anxiety:

  • Acupuncture is immediate.
  • Acupuncture reduces reinforcement.
  • Acupuncture may help with other health issues.

Acupuncture is designed to be an immediate treatment. While not every acupuncture session provides complete and full relief right away, as soon as you leave the acupuncturist (and in some cases the next morning), much of your anxiety should be diminished. Compare this to long term treatments that generally require you to work on your anxiety a little at a time over a long period of time. For those with severe anxiety, these relatively quick results can be advantageous.

Reinforcement is also a serious problem for those with anxiety, especially panic attacks. With panic attacks, a person's fear of getting a panic attack can actually cause a panic attack, which of course confirms the fear and makes it more likely to happen again in the future. Acupuncture, if effective, can help reduce these thought processes, which in turn should reduce the potential for your anxieties to reinforce themselves.

Finally, while anxiety is a specific mental health condition, it doesn't always come as a standalone issue. Often you have other issues in your life that can cause you some anxiety or contribute to the severity of your anxiety symptoms. Acupuncture should help with those as well. For example, you may find that you become more anxious or on edge after you feel like your heartbeat has increased. Acupuncture could then help.

Acupuncture Risks and Safety

It should also be noted that acupuncture is not an entirely safe treatment strategy. Although it is often marketed as safe and natural, there are risks involved with this type of treatment, including:

  • Risk of Infection - Any time a needle penetrates the skin, there is a chance that bacteria can enter the wound.
  • Damage to Organs - These needles are sharp, and should the needle be pushed too deeply it may hit an organ.
  • Broken Needles - Although rare, the needles in acupuncture can break. Broken needles deep in the skin may also migrate to another area of the body, increasing risk.

While all of these risks are rare, they do mean that acupuncture is not a 100% safe treatment.

Acupuncture is Not a Uniform Treatment

Interestingly, not all acupuncturists subscribe to the same beliefs about which acupuncture points are best for anxiety. Each has received their own training and experts disagree about which points need to be targeted in order to provide the best benefits. They may also target symptoms, rather than conditions, depending on what they feel will work best for your needs.

Choosing Acupuncture For Anxiety

Research doesn't confirm acupuncture's claims, but it doesn't deny it. Those that believe in the power of eastern medicines and feel the anecdotal evidence that supports acupuncture is sufficient may want to give it a try. Acupuncture has centuries of support in the East, and many believe it's one of the most powerful ways to fight not only anxiety, but other health issues as well.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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