How Does Acupuncture For Anxiety Work?

Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC

Published 06/27/2022

Using acupuncture for anxiety is a natural option for treating related symptoms. There is some evidence that it helps some people to an extent, with more research needed to understand its effects on different anxiety types. Learning more about this option will help with learning about benefits and whether it is right for you.

How Does the Process Work?

Acupuncture is an ancient practice that uses pressure points throughout the body activated by using needles. Thin needles are inserted at each pressure point. There is ongoing research to learn more about how acupuncture works on anxiety. It is still a common alternative treatment method for different anxiety types, including panic attacks and generalized anxiety disorder.

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicine that is thought to use the body’s energy to regulate a person’s health. Some studies show the practice may help improve blood circulation while encouraging healing of specific ailments related to health issues, poor nutrition, injuries, stress, etc. Acupuncture aims to help the body restore the balance of energy to encourage natural healing results.

When the needle is inserted, it is placed near the nerves and encourages the body to release natural chemicals known to reduce pain. For anxiety, it is thought to help release chemicals in the brain related to emotions to promote better control through brain stimulation. As a result, a person feels relaxed, calm, or more balanced, which helps treat an illness.

What Are the Benefits?

Some people report improved memory while reducing the level of their anxiety symptoms. On average, a session for acupuncture may last about 30 minutes. A person may have multiple sessions within a specific timeframe to achieve results, up to 12 weeks on average.

Acupuncture has seen favorable results in generalized anxiety—some gain better results when combining it with other treatment methods, including medication and therapy. While research is working to understand how this affects the body, some research has shown it helps the body’s fight-or-flight response by reducing its impact, limiting how it affects anxiety symptoms.

Are There Side Effects?

Acupuncture has minimal side effects, but it is essential to understand potential risks. After a session, a person may experience some soreness that could last a few hours. Some experience bruising at the insertion point of the skin. Others may feel uncomfortable briefly during the needles’ insertion due to feeling the needle pricking through the skin.

You can minimize or avoid side effects by working with an experienced professional that understands acupuncture points for anxiety. They should meet licensing requirements where they practice acupuncture. Each state has different regulations and requirements. You can check them when considering which acupuncturist to choose. Licensed professionals are required to use sterile, disposable needles.

People with certain health conditions, such as having a pacemaker or bleeding condition, should avoid acupuncture. Continue taking your medication as prescribed for your symptoms. If you have questions or concerns about your medication with acupuncture, contact your doctor.

What Happens During A Session?

People who have never had a session want to know what happens and how soon they feel better. The acupuncturist will ask about your symptoms and those of most concern. They may ask about other parts of your treatment plan related to your anxiety, such as taking medications. You can also ask about the process and get answers to questions you may have before proceeding.

The session moves on to inserting needles in pressure points throughout the body. The needles are left in place for 20 minutes after spending up to half an hour inserting them. Afterward, they are removed carefully from the body. Some notice a change soon after, but it usually requires several sessions. The number of sessions and where the needles are inserted depends on your symptoms and the intended outcome you hope to achieve.

Before starting your sessions, it is essential to review associated costs. Some insurance companies will not cover the cost of acupuncture unless used for mental health concerns or specific medical reasons.

Common Reasons Why People Use It

While there are many acupuncture benefits, people have specific reasons why they use it. Besides providing relief for anxiety and depression, there are reasons why some prefer this treatment method, including:

  • People Get Results and Say It Works. Some people try acupuncture through a personal referral from a friend or family member. Some studies show it helps reduce the severity of mental health symptoms related to depression and anxiety.
  • Preference Over Traditional Medication. Some may experience side effects from medication or prefer a holistic, alternative option for managing their symptoms. Using acupuncture has little side effects while being easy for anyone to use.
  • It Releases Hormones Good forthe Body. The process helps release hormones called endorphins that stimulate parts of the body from the brain. The hormones contribute to feeling good after work out, and they help the body treat pain naturally.
  • Pregnant Women Benefit. Using non-medication interventions reduce the unborn baby’s risk of adverse effects from medication used during pregnancy.
  • Helps Control Inflammation. Needles used in acupuncture help the body create an anti-inflammatory response, which can help lessen depression.
  • Therapeutic forthe Body. It may not seem like a comforting thought having needles sticking out of your skin, but people recommend it to their peers. Many feel it is a relaxing experience while helping to calm the body. It is not uncommon for people to fall asleep when having a session.

  • Provides Mental and Physical Health Benefits. Acupuncture helps boost your mood as well as promote wellness for the body. The treatment is commonly used for allergies, headaches, and tension while also improving fertility chances in some cases.

Research continues to study more about how acupuncture works. Results can vary and the scientists are still out on how and why it works for the people it does provide results for. Getting more information about this procedure as an option starts with contacting a provider, asking questions, and doing independent research on the procedure.

Is Acupuncture Right for Me?

Since acupuncture has been practiced for many years, it is an option worth learning more about while considering any risks. While the overall risk is low, it helps know more about the process and why people use it. As you consider the option, think about your symptoms and learn how it has helped others. Think about other things you are doing for your anxiety and determine if this option will complement you.

Learn where you can get acupuncture locally and review the history and experience of the practitioner. Contact the practitioner of interest and ask additional questions. Remember to consider your symptoms as well as any medications and preexisting conditions.  Find someone who has experience providing acupuncture for symptoms of anxiety. After researching to learn more about the procedure, including where to get it, the cost, and what to expect during sessions, you should know whether this is something you want to try.

As a low-risk option for treating anxiety symptoms, acupuncture may help you relax and keeps stress levels down.

Learn from people who had sessions and what their results were. You may want to get other opinions from professionals such as your primary doctor and mental health provider. Using acupuncture may provide another avenue toward healthy living when practiced with other therapy, exercise, and an effective treatment plan for symptoms.