Modern life is stressful, and the American Psychological Association considers stress to be a mental health crisis in the U.S. According to its Stress in America survey – which it performs annually – people in the U.S. are some of the most stressed in the world. Inflation, national and global uncertainty, work/family balance – together they make for a heavy anxiety burden for many.
As ubiquitous as it is, stress is still a health threat that must be taken seriously. Medical research demonstrates that excessive, chronic stress can lead to a host of health issues and can greatly reduce quality of life.
Millions of Americans are making stress reduction a goal in response, and many of them are integrating acupuncture into their lives to further that goal. Acupuncture is considered a promising tool in the fight against stress, and has noted benefits for anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions that can make stress worse.
What Are the Health Risks of Chronic Stress?
Stress can have far-reaching effects on the body and brain, given how wired the fight-or-flight response is in humans. Any perceived threat – whether it’s a dangerous animal or a stack of bills – activates systems throughout the body. When stress is abundant and those systems are constantly activated, that’s when health issues may emerge. They may include:
- Anxiety and depression disorders
- Sleep problems
- Muscle or chest pain
- GI symptoms
- Irritability and mood swings
- Eating disorders
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of interest in sex or exercise
- Drug, alcohol, or tobacco use
Stress can have an outsized negative influence on people who experience it chronically. Unfortunately, many of us do experience frequent stress. According to Gallup, 79 percent of Americans state that they “frequently” or “sometimes” experience stress in their daily lives—which is a medical crisis in America.
Even when stress levels abate, there can be lingering damage. This damage is termed allostatic load and is the result of the brain constantly working to restore balance, or homeostasis, in the body. The effects of allostatic load may include the following:
- Certain forms of cardiovascular disease, including coronary heart disease
- Chronic inflammation and its cascading health effects
- Neurological dysregulation
Reducing allostatic load is a worthy long-term health goal, and researchers are considering an array of stress-fighting tools to accomplish that goal. Houston Acupuncture is one such tool.
How Can Acupuncture Help with Anxiety and Stress?
Acupuncture has a history of success in treating a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and stress. While there’s still a need for more randomized studies, there is already some positive research on how acupuncture can improve stress levels. Those studies include:
- A 2013 study published in the Journal of Endocrinology. In this study, researchers induced elevated levels of stress in rats by exposing them to winter-like temperatures for one hour every day. Following exposure, the animal subjects were given acupuncture treatments and their blood was sampled for analysis.
During blood analysis, researchers checked certain hormone levels – specifically those that supported hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal gland function. The hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands are each part of the HPA axis – the organs responsible for mediating stress responses. Elevated levels of HPA hormones suggest an elevated stress response, so they can be used as a marker for stress levels.
In this study, researchers found that acupuncture significantly reduced the presence of some HPA-related hormones, suggesting that the rats were de-stressed by acupuncture treatment.
- A 2020 pilot study published in Plos One. This study used humans instead of animal subjects and also incorporated “sham” acupuncture into the process. Sham acupuncture can serve as a placebo effect control for acupuncture studies, though it can be difficult to create placebo-like acupuncture. Typically, needles aren’t inserted or are inserted away from prescribed acupuncture points during sham acupuncture.
A third group, a control, was also included in the study. This group received neither true acupuncture nor sham acupuncture.
The researchers measured subject stress through a series of surveys and questionnaires. What they found was that three weeks following treatment, the group that received true acupuncture experienced the greatest decline in stress.
There are additional studies that back these results. However, in the above studies, researchers asserted that acupuncture’s other benefits – pain relief, GI relief and local nervous system activation – could all factor into the treatment’s stress reduction capabilities.
Some Licensed Houston Acupuncturists are Also Licensed to Provide Western Medicine
Acupuncture is at its most effective when it is used as a support therapy. While acupuncture has notable stress relief benefits on its own, many people find that optimal stress reduction involves a combination of western and eastern therapies.
While most practices are confined to either allopathic (western) or osteopathic (integrative) medicine, some are licensed in both disciplines. Practices with dual licensure can provide a greater variety of stress-relief options to their patients, combining the best of western and eastern medicine.
Together, these medical philosophies can support more effective, more comprehensive treatment.
Considering Acupuncture for Excessive Stress? Choose an Experienced Houston Practice
Acupuncture is safe for the vast majority of people, and the risk of adverse effects are generally minimal. However, it’s still important for people to seek out an experienced, licensed acupuncturist for stress relief. There are two reasons for this.
One, a licensed Houston acupuncturist utilizes best practices and sanitized equipment (including single-use acupuncture needles). This protects against possible infection.
Two, a licensed Houston acupuncturist will know what points to target during treatment. Accurate targeting is critical for optimizing treatment, and experienced practitioners are trained in locating these points reliably.
With more pressure than ever placed on modern society, millions of Americans are searching for effective stress relief. A licensed Houston acupuncturist can help with stress relief safely and effectively.