Treating Stress, Anxiety, and Depression with Acupuncture

Forest of Feelings (Figure out what what you’re feeling)

Positive Vibes Only? Definitely not. Negative emotions are natural and can signal a need to change our relationships, environment, or behavior. It’s when negative emotions become chronic and feel like they arise without cause, that you turn to guiding practitioners like therapists and acupuncturists who can help you figure out what forest of feelings you've wandered into and how you can find your way back out again.

Whether your depression, anxiety, and stress are chronic or not, tamping down negative feelings or denying them in favor of only positive feelings is neither realistic nor helpful. What is helpful and what acupuncture helps facilitate is giving all your feelings a space and distance from yourself to be acknowledged, fully felt, and then allowed to pass. That can be an extended grieving period and or as short as a few minutes to recognize that you're getting frustrated and need to breathe deeper and take a walk.

Understanding what you're feeling, giving that feeling space, and then letting it go is essential in our modern world. With these skills, you can begin to move past the thicket of a bad stretch. And when you have one bad day, you'll realize that's part of being human, not a sign that you're broken.

Negative emotions are natural and can signal a need to change our relationships, environment, or behavior.

A First Step

Simply being aware of what it is that you're feeling is a good first step. Rather than putting a label on it (I have depression, I'm an angry person, that's just who I am), try, "What is this that I'm feeling? Am I angry right now? Is it sadness and frustration at the same time?" Then you can take a step back and say, "that sadness and frustration are not who I am. I am not a sad and frustrated person. I just feel those things right now and there's got to be a reason for it."

Next, ideally with the help of a guide, you can put on your detective hat and figure out why those feelings are coming up so the signal doesn't keep coming regularly while you don't understand what it's trying to tell you (a real recipe for frustration).

Acupuncture and Therapy Work Well Together

I am not a therapist. What I am is an acupuncturist and Japanese medicine practitioner.

I recommend that my patients who find themselves in these patterns for longer periods of time or with frequency see a good therapist. Many of you often are in therapy already when you seek my care. Acupuncture works really well in combination with therapy, especially talk (cognitive behavior therapy and other methods) and somatic therapies. The way I tend to explain it is that acupuncture helps you become more centered and clear – more aware of what it is that you're feeling so you can express it in therapy and to yourself.

What acupuncture helps facilitate is giving all your feelings a space and distance from yourself to be acknowledged, fully felt, and then allowed to pass.

Acupuncture also helps protect against those feelings settling in and becoming something more (pain, stiffness, adrenal fatigue, cardiopulmonary symptoms, etc). Plus, we can treat the already existing symptomatic expression of your anxiety, depression, and/or stress, whether physical (like headaches, insomnia, and palpitations) or mental/emotional (like a racing or foggy mental state).

Japanese and Chinese medicine look at our emotions as expressions of imbalance in the relationships of our different systems (sometimes called channels, meridians, or organs). So the questions above are the same sorts of diagnostic questions I ask in the office to figure out what channels are out of harmony. That information allows us to help them back into their proper relationship so you feel more centered, grounded, balanced, and clear. And this also gives you the opportunity to make small or large changes that might put you in a healthier space and thus treat that signal/feeling at the root of its expression.

What kind of treatments do you offer?

Acupuncture: Gentle correction of the relationships of your physical and energetic body. Using the traditional functions of the points and channels plus modern understandings of physiology, acupuncture helps to regulate the nervous system so that the parasympathetic (rest, digest, heal) outweighs the sympathetic (fight, flight, freeze). Patients report feeling more at ease, rested, calm, and grounded after treatment. Many patients fall asleep on the table during in-office treatment and often sleep better at home as well.

Acupressure: Earseeds and self-massage as coping mechanisms between treatments and as regular care for treatment and prevention of symptoms. These methods are often subtle enough to be performed in the workplace or social gatherings without attracting attention.

Qigong: Breathing exercises and gentle movements. Ranging from short and sweet visualizations and meditative practices to healing sounds and simple movements that target the organ systems and channels that are out of balance. Most of the movements can be done while seated or standing and we can adapt them for your body's range of motion.

Herbal Medicine: Personalized prescriptions for herbal formulas and supplements for symptomatic and deep cause treatment. Protect your system against physical effects of emotions on the body (adrenal fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations) and amplify the benefits of treatment. Taking a herbal formula regularly can decrease the frequency of recommended in-office visits.

Moxa/ Moxibustion: Depending on the causes and symptoms of your emotional patterns, this herbal heat therapy can be very helpful to increase motivation, combat fatigue, and reawaken interest in activities. Patients have described it as feeling like painful or tight spots are melting or unwinding, that they can breathe deeper, and that they feel more awake. If applicable, I instruct my patients on how to do moxibustion safely at home as well as perform moxibustion in the clinic with you.

Essential Oils: Recommendations for home care to combine with acupressure points. Especially helpful for travel and nighttime symptoms.

How long does treatment take? When will I be better?

My treatment plans are personalized for each patient. I see people at various stages of their emotional journeys. Some people come in soon after a crisis (important to note that I am not a substitute for emergency services such as hotlines or the ER - please see information below if you are in crisis). But the short and honest answer is it depends on you - where you are in your relationship to your emotional health and how much farther you have to go to come to terms with what balance is going to look like for you.

Acupuncture is not here to "fix" you. It's medicine, not magic. I often tell patients when they praise my touch that I'm just getting stuff out of the way so your body can do the work it is already trying to do. Our bodies want to get back to homeostasis. Balance.

You are doing the work and the work can take some time. But it's a lot easier when you surround yourself with experts who can guide and support you, and that's where I see myself on your team.

If you are in crisis

National Hopeline Network: 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)

If your depression is leading to suicidal thoughts, please call the National Hopeline to connect with a treatment center in your area. Includes live chat feature for anyone who doesn't want to or is unable to call. This hotline can dispatch emergency services to you if needed.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Another resource for anyone dealing with suicidal or other harmful thoughts is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. They also offer a chat service1-800-799-4889.

Acupuncture is not an emergency service. When you need the tools I can provide and a new member of your cheering squad, please be in touch. You are worthwhile and cared for.

Additional resources

About Shawna

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Photo: Death to the Stock Photo